Emotion, Olfaction, and the Human Amygdala: Amygdala Activation during Aversive Olfactory Stimulation
Electrophysiologic and lesion studies of animals increasingly implicate the amygdala in aspects of emotional processing. Yet, the functions of the human amygdala remain poorly understood. To examine the contributions of the amygdala and other limbic and paralimbic regions to emotional processing, we exposed healthy subjects to aversive olfactory stimuli while measuring regional cerebral blood flow (rCBF) with positron emission tomography. Exposure to a highly aversive odorant produced strong rCBF increases in both amygdalae and in the left orbitofrontal cortex. Exposure to less aversive odorants produced rCBF increases in the orbitofrontal cortex but not in the amygdala. Change of rCBF within the left amygdala and the left OFC was highly intercorrelated, indicating a strong functional interaction between these brain regions. Furthermore, the activity within the left amygdala was associated significantly with subjective ratings of perceived aversiveness. These findings provide evidence that the human amygdala participates in the hedonic or emotional processing of olfactory stimuli.