By delivering odors with carefully selected molecular structures to awake mice and then analyzing the animals’ neural activity, researchers in the Department of Neurobiology in the Blavatnik Institute at HMS have described for the first time how the olfactory cortex, the region of the brain responsible for processing smell, encodes information about odor chemistry, the fundamental sensory cues of olfaction.

The research team showed that neuronal representations of smell in the cortex reflect chemical similarities between odors, thus enabling scents to be placed into categories by the brain. Moreover, these representations can be rewired by sensory experiences.

The findings suggest a neurobiological mechanism that may explain why individuals have common but highly personalized experiences with smell. In addition, the results could open new avenues of study to better understand how the brain transforms information about odor chemistry into the perception of smell.

Pashkovski SL et al., Nature, July 2020

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