The Privileged Brain Representation of First Olfactory Associations

Yaara Yeshurun*, Hadas Lapid, Yadin Dudai, Noam Sobel

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Authors [1], poets [2], and scientists [3-6] have been fascinated by the strength of childhood olfactory memories. Indeed, in long-term memory, the first odor-to-object association was stronger than subsequent associations of the same odor with other objects [7]. Here we tested the hypothesis that first odor associations enjoy a privileged brain representation. Because emotion impacts memory [8-10], we further asked whether the pleasantness of an odor would influence such a representation. On day 1, we associated the same visual objects initially with one, and subsequently with a second, set of pleasant and unpleasant olfactory and auditory stimuli. One week later, we presented the same visual objects and tested odor-associative memory concurrent with functional magnetic resonance brain imaging. We found that the power (% remembered) of early associations was enhanced when they were unpleasant, regardless of whether they were olfactory or auditory. Brain imaging, however, revealed a unique hippocampal activation for early olfactory but not auditory associations, regardless of whether they were pleasant or unpleasant. Activity within the hippocampus on day 1 predicted the olfactory but not auditory associations that would be remembered one week later. These findings confirmed the hypothesis of a privileged brain representation for first olfactory associations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1869-1874
Number of pages6
JournalCurrent Biology
Issue number21
StatePublished - 17 Nov 2009
Externally publishedYes




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