Functional Neuronal Processing of Body Odors Differs from that of Similar Common Odors


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Abstract

Visual and auditory stimuli of high social and ecological importance are processed in the brain by specialized neuronal networks. To date, this has not been demonstrated for olfactory stimuli. By means of positron emission tomography, we sought to elucidate the neuronal substrates behind body odor perception to answer the question of whether the central processing of body odors differs from perceptually similar nonbody odors. Body odors were processed by a network that was distinctly separate from common odors, indicating a separation in the processing of odors based on their source. Smelling a friend's body odor activated regions previously seen for familiar stimuli, whereas smelling a stranger activated amygdala and insular regions akin to what has previously been demonstrated for fearful stimuli. The results provide evidence that social olfactory stimuli of high ecological relevance are processed by specialized neuronal networks similar to what has previously been demonstrated for auditory and visual stimuli.

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