Neuroscience of Smell Memories

Can you recall a specific odor or scent that has the ‘spatiotemporal’ ability to transport you back in time and space to a very specific place from your past? Most of us have experienced how the unexpected whiff of a Proustian, Remembrance of Things Past, type of odor can instantly evoke flashbacks to somewhere long ago or far away. Until recently, the underlying brain mechanisms that encode these vivid time-and-place smell memories has been a mystery. But now, for the first time, a new study, “Hippocampal Projections to the Anterior Olfactory Nucleus Differentially Convey Spatiotemporal Information During Episodic Odour Memory,” helps to explain how ‘what-when-and-where’ smell memories are stored in the brain. This paper was published July 16 in the journal Nature Communications.


“Our findings demonstrate for the first time how smells we’ve encountered in our lives are recreated in memory. In other words, we’ve discovered how you are able to remember the smell of your grandma’s apple pie when walking into her kitchen,” first author Afif Aqrabawi, a Ph.D. candidate in the University of Toronto’s Department of Cell and Systems Biology said in a statement. “When these elements combine, a what-when-where memory is formed.”

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