Olfactory hallucinations elicited by electrical stimulation via subdural electrodes: effects of direct stimulation of olfactory bulb and tract

Epilepsy Behav. 2012 Jun;24(2):264-8. doi: 10.1016/j.yebeh.2012.03.027. Epub 2012 May 2.


In 1954, Penfield and Jasper briefly described that percepts of unpleasant odor were elicited by intraoperative electrical stimulation of the olfactory bulb in patients with epilepsy. Since then, few peer-reviewed studies have reported such phenomena elicited by stimulation mapping via subdural electrodes implanted on the ventral surface of the frontal lobe. Here, we determined what types of olfactory hallucinations could be reproduced by such stimulation in children with focal epilepsy. This study included 16 children (age range: 5 to 17 years) who underwent implantation of subdural electrodes to localize the presumed epileptogenic zone and eloquent areas. Pairs of electrodes were electrically stimulated, and clinical responses were observed. In case a patient reported a perception, she/he was asked to describe its nature. We also described the stimulus parameters to elicit a given symptom. Eleven patients reported a perception of smell in response to electrical stimulation while the remaining five did not. Nine patients perceived an unpleasant smell (like bitterness, smoke, or garbage) while two perceived a pleasant smell (like strawberry or good food). Such olfactory hallucinations were induced by stimulation proximal to the olfactory bulb or tract on either hemisphere but not by that of orbitofrontal gyri lateral to the medial orbital sulci. The range of stimulus parameters employed to elicit olfactory hallucinations was comparable to those for other sensorimotor symptoms. Our systematic study of children with epilepsy replicated stimulation-induced olfactory hallucinations. We failed to provide evidence that a positive olfactory perception could be elicited by conventional stimulation of secondary olfactory cortex alone.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Electric Stimulation
  • Electrodes, Implanted
  • Electroencephalography
  • Epilepsy / surgery
  • Epilepsy / therapy
  • Female
  • Frontal Lobe / physiology
  • Hallucinations / etiology*
  • Hallucinations / psychology
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Neurosurgical Procedures
  • Olfactory Bulb / physiology*
  • Olfactory Pathways / physiology*
  • Smell / physiology*
  • Subdural Space