What can an orbitofrontal cortex-endowed animal do with smells?

Jay A. Gottfried*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution

23 Scopus citations


It is widely presumed that odor quality is a direct outcome of odorant molecular structure, but increasing evidence suggests that learning, experience, and context play important roles in human olfactory perception. Such data suggest that a given set of olfactory receptors activated by an odorant does not map directly onto a given odor percept. Rather, odor perception may rely on more synthetic, or integrative, mechanisms subserved by higher-order brain regions. Results presented here explore the specific role of human orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) in the formation and modulation of odor quality coding. Combining olfactory psychophysical techniques and functional imaging approaches, we have found that sensory-specific information about an odorant is not static or fixed within human olfactory OFC, but is highly malleable and can be rapidly updated by perceptual experience. Critically, the magnitude of OFC activation predicts subsequent behavioral improvement in olfactory perception. Our findings highlight the pivotal role of OFC in linking olfactory sensation, perception, and experience. It is worth considering that many of the current proposed functions attributed to the (distinctively mammalian) OFC are an extension of mechanisms that originally evolved to mediate response flexibility between chemosensory signals and appropriate behavioral actions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationLinking affect to Action
Subtitle of host publicationCritical Contributions to the Orbitofrontal Cortex
PublisherBlackwell Publishing Inc.
Number of pages19
ISBN (Print)9781573316835
StatePublished - Dec 2007

Publication series

NameAnnals of the New York Academy of Sciences
ISSN (Print)0077-8923
ISSN (Electronic)1749-6632


  • Aversive conditioning
  • Limbic system
  • Olfaction
  • Olfactory cortex
  • Orbitofrontal cortex
  • Perceptual learning
  • Sensory processing
  • Smell

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Neuroscience
  • History and Philosophy of Science


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