Humans routinely make judgments about olfactory stimuli. However, few studies have examined the functional neuroanatomy underlying the cognitive operations involved in such judgments. In order to delineate this functional anatomy, we asked 12 normal subjects to perform different judgments about olfactory stimuli while regional cerebral blood flow (rCBF) was measured with PET. In separate conditions, subjects made judgments about the presence (odor detection), intensity, hedonicity, familiarity, or edibility of different odorants. An auditory task served as a control condition. All five olfactory tasks induced rCBF increases in the right orbitofrontal cortex (OFC), but right OFC activity was highest during familiarity judgments and lowest during the detection task. Left OFC activity increased significantly during hedonic and familiarity judgments, but not during other odor judgments. Left OFC activity was significantly higher during hedonicity judgments than during familiarity or other olfactory judgments. These data demonstrate that aspects of odor processing in the OFC are lateralized depending on the type of olfactory task. They support a model of parallel processing in the left and right OFC in which the relative level of activation depends on whether the judgment involves odor recognition or emotion. Primary visual areas also demonstrated a differential involvement in olfactory processing depending on the type of olfactory task: significant rCBF increases were observed in hedonic and edibility judgments, whereas no significant rCBF increases were found in the other three judgments. These data indicate that judgments of hedonicity and edibility engage circuits involved in visual processing, but detection, intensity, and familiarity judgments do not.
Copyright 2001 Academic Press.