Human Chemosignals and Brain Activity: A Preliminary Meta-analysis of the Processing of Human Body Odors

Chem Senses. 2020 Dec 5;45(9):855-864. doi: 10.1093/chemse/bjaa067.


Across phyla, chemosignals are a widely used form of social communication and increasing evidence suggests that chemosensory communication is present also in humans. Chemosignals can transfer, via body odors, socially relevant information, such as specific information about identity or emotional states. However, findings on neural correlates of processing of body odors are divergent. The aims of this meta-analysis were to assess the brain areas involved in the perception of body odors (both neutral and emotional) and the specific activation patterns for the perception of neutral body odor (NBO) and emotional body odor (EBO). We conducted an activation likelihood estimation (ALE) meta-analysis on 16 experiments (13 studies) examining brain activity during body odors processing. We found that the contrast EBO versus NBO resulted in significant convergence in the right middle frontal gyrus and the left cerebellum, whereas the pooled meta-analysis combining all the studies of human odors showed significant convergence in the right inferior frontal gyrus. No significant cluster was found for NBOs. However, our findings also highlight methodological heterogeneity across the existing literature. Further neuroimaging studies are needed to clarify and support the existing findings on neural correlates of processing of body odors.

Keywords: cerebellum; chemosignals; human body odors; inferior frontal gyrus; meta-analysis; middle frontal gyrus.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Analysis of Variance
  • Brain
  • Brain Mapping
  • Cerebellum / physiology
  • Emotions
  • Female
  • Human Body
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Odorants / analysis*
  • Pheromones, Human / physiology*
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology
  • Sexual Behavior


  • Pheromones, Human