Smell training improves olfactory function and alters brain structure

Neuroimage. 2019 Apr 1;189:45-54. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2019.01.008. Epub 2019 Jan 7.


Training and repeated exposure to odorants leads to enhanced olfactory sensitivity. So far, the efficacy of intensive olfactory training on olfactory function in a healthy population and its underlying neurobiological basis remain poorly known. This study investigated the effects of a 6-week intensive and well-controlled olfactory training on olfactory function and brain structure/neuroplasticity. Thirty-six healthy young individuals were recruited and randomly distributed in three groups: (1) 12 participants underwent daily intensive olfactory training of at least 20 min that included an (a) odor intensity classification task, an (b) odor quality classification task and an (c) target odor detection task, (2) 12 participants underwent an equivalent visual control training, and (3) 12 control individuals did not participate in any training. Before and after the training period, all participants performed a series of olfactory tests and those from groups 1 and 2 underwent structural magnetic resonance (MR) imaging, from which we obtained measures such as cortical thickness and tissue density. Participants improved in the respectively trained tasks throughout the 6-weeks training period. Those who underwent olfactory training improved general olfactory function compared to control participants, especially in odor identification, thus showing intramodal transfer. Further, MR imaging analysis revealed that olfactory training led to increased cortical thickness in the right inferior frontal gyrus, the bilateral fusiform gyrus and the right entorhinal cortex. This research shows that intensive olfactory training can generally improve olfactory function and that this improvement is associated with changes in the structure of olfactory processing areas of the brain.

Keywords: MR imaging; Neuroplasticity; Olfactory perception; Olfactory system; odor training.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Entorhinal Cortex / anatomy & histology*
  • Entorhinal Cortex / diagnostic imaging
  • Entorhinal Cortex / physiology
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Neuroimaging / methods*
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology*
  • Olfactory Perception / physiology*
  • Practice, Psychological*
  • Prefrontal Cortex / anatomy & histology*
  • Prefrontal Cortex / diagnostic imaging
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology
  • Random Allocation
  • Temporal Lobe / anatomy & histology*
  • Temporal Lobe / diagnostic imaging
  • Temporal Lobe / physiology
  • Young Adult