The functional neuroanatomy of odor evoked autobiographical memories cued by odors and words

Neuropsychologia. 2013 Jan;51(1):123-31. doi: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2012.10.023. Epub 2012 Nov 9.


Behavioral evidence indicates that odor evoked autobiographical memories (OEAMs) are older, more emotional, less thought of and induce stronger time traveling characteristics than autobiographical memories (AMs) evoked by other modalities. The main aim of this study was to explore the neural correlates of AMs evoked by odors as a function of retrieval cue. Participants were screened for specific OEAMs and later presented with the odor cue and its verbal referent in an fMRI paradigm. Because the same OEAM was retrieved across both cue formats (odor and word), potential cue dependent brain activations were investigated. The overall results showed that odor and word cued OEAMs activated regions typically associated with recollection of autobiographical information. Although no odors were presented, a verbal cuing of the OEAMs activated areas associated with olfactory perception (e.g., piriform cortex). However, relative to word cuing, an odor cuing of OEAMs resulted in more activity in MTL regions such as the parahippocampus, and areas involved in visual vividness (e.g., occipital gyrus and precuneus). Furthermore, odor cues activated areas related to emotional processing, such as limbic and tempopolar regions significantly more. In contrast, word cues relative to odor cues recruited a more widespread and bilateral prefrontal activity. Hippocampus activity did not vary as function of the remoteness of the memory, but recollection of OEAMs from the 1(st) vs the 2(nd) decade of life showed specific activation in the right OFC, whereas the 2(nd) reflected a higher activation in the left inferior frontal gyrus.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Cues*
  • Female
  • Hippocampus / blood supply
  • Hippocampus / physiology
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Memory, Episodic*
  • Odorants*
  • Olfactory Pathways / blood supply*
  • Olfactory Pathways / physiology*
  • Olfactory Perception / physiology*
  • Oxygen / blood
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Reaction Time / physiology
  • Young Adult


  • Oxygen