Four experiments were conducted to characterize the role of primary and secondary olfactory projection areas (piriform cortex and dorsomedial thalamic nucleus (DMN] in olfactory information processing. Rats had to learn to discriminate between odors that were simultaneously released from different arms of an automated olfactory maze. When standard training conditions were used, damage of the DMN severely impaired both preoperatively trained and naive animals in acquiring an odor discrimination set (i.e. in most problems no learning was demonstrated). An additional group of DMN animals that received 4 times the standard amount of daily trials was unable to acquire the first two problems but successfully solved the third and all subsequent discriminations. Analysis of performance patterns suggested that destruction of the DMN initially leads to a strong procedural impairment that can be overcome by extensive training. After solving the third problem the animals with DMN damage required much less training to reach the learning criterion but generally made more errors than controls. Transfer of savings rarely occurred when a problem was repeated. Whether this secondary learning deficit observed in later discriminations is due to a specific effect of the lesion on the encoding of olfactory cues and thus on memory formation, or due to a disturbance in the regulation of emotional factors such as motivation, arousal, and attention is discussed. Lesions of the thalamus that spared the DMN had no effect on learning or retention of olfactory discriminations. Animals with ablations of the piriform cortex only acquired odor discriminations if they had been trained in the olfactory maze before the lesion. Moreover, their performance depended on the odor quality: they had great difficulty learning complex cues consisting of several odorants and learned simple odors virtually identical to control rats. The results indicate that an intact piriform cortex is needed to acquire the procedures involved to perform an olfactory discrimination task as well as to build neural representations of olfactory cues.