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Published September 2003 | Published
Journal Article Open

A Specific Role for the Human Amygdala in Olfactory Memory


The medial temporal lobe is known to play a role in the processing of olfaction and memory. The specific contribution of the human amygdala to memory for odors has not been addressed, however. The role of this region in memory for odors was assessed in patients with unilateral amygdala damage due to temporal lobectomy (n = 20; 11 left, 9 right), one patient with selective bilateral amygdala damage, and in 20 age-matched normal controls. Fifteen odors were presented, followed 1 h later by an odor–name matching test and an odor–odor recognition test. Signal detection analyses showed that both unilateral groups were impaired in their memory for matching odors with names, these patients were not significantly impaired on odor–odor recognition. Bilateral amygdala damage resulted in severe impairment in both odor–name matching as well as in odor–odor recognition memory. Importantly, none of the patients were impaired on an auditory verbal learning task, suggesting that these findings reflect a specific impairment in olfactory memory, and not merely a more general memory deficit. Taken together, the data provide neuropsychological evidence that the human amygdala is essential for olfactory memory.

Additional Information

© 2003 by Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press. Received April 17, 2003; accepted in revised form July 29, 2003. Supported by NINDS Grant P01 NS 19632 and an NRSA to T.W.B. from the National Institute on Aging. The publication costs of this article were defrayed in part by payment of page charges. This article must therefore be hereby marked "advertisement" in accordance with 18 USC section 1734 solely to indicate this fact.

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August 19, 2023
October 19, 2023