Spared and impaired olfactory abilities after thalamic lesions

Lee Sela, Yaron Sacher, Corinne Serfaty, Yaara Yeshurun, Nachum Soroker, Noam Sobel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Olfactory information reaches olfactory cortex without a thalamic relay. This neuroanatomical substrate has combined with functional findings to suggest that, in olfaction, the typical thalamic role in sensory processing has shifted to the olfactory bulb or olfactory cortex. With this in mind, we set out to ask whether the thalamus at all plays a significant functional role in human olfaction. We tested olfactory function in 17 patients with unilateral focal thalamic lesions and in age-matched healthy controls.Wefound that thalamic lesions did not significantly influence olfactory detection but significantly impaired olfactory identification, and only right lesions altered olfactory hedonics by reducing the pleasantness of pleasant odors. An auditory control revealed that this shift in pleasantness was olfactory specific. These olfactory impairments were evident in explicit measures of perception, as well as in patterns of sniffing. Whereas healthy subjects modulated their sniffs in accordance with odorant content, thalamic patients did not. We conclude that, although the thalamus is not in the path of olfactory information from periphery to cortex, it nevertheless plays a significant functional role in human olfaction.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)12059-12069
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number39
StatePublished - 30 Sep 2009


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