Why some scents evoke strong memories

Have you ever smelled a flower, suddenly flooded with a childhood memory, or does a specific smell of curry remind you of your grandmother? A new study has now revealed why and how the brain does this. Researchers have shown that humans have a unique connection between the hippocampus in the brain, which plays a key role in learning, memory, and the olfactory system.

The process in detail

“In our study, we compared how the olfactory system communicates with the hippocampus with how the other sensory areas work (vision, hearing and touch,” said Guangyu Ju, first author of the study from Northwestern University in Chicago. “We found that smell has a stronger functional connection with the hippocampus than these other sensory systems.” The team wrote that this strong connection, like a super highway from smell to the hippocampus, may be the reason that smells can so strongly evoke memories. The results are published in a journal Progress in Neurobiology.

Link strengthening

Christina Zilano, associate professor in the Department of Neuroscience at Northwestern University and lead author of the study, said. “Another great finding from our study is that with each inhale, the connections to the memory centers in the brain strengthen. We found that the connection between the olfactory cortex and the hippocampus changes rhythmically with normal breathing, and it is interesting because it shows that something basic and natural, like breathing, is closely related to how memory works in the brain. ” The team hopes that this work will contribute to the development of treatments for odor disorders and loss, which have received special attention in the era of COVID-19. “We plan to investigate further the special link between breathing rhythms and brain rhythms,” said Guangyu Ju. Inhalation and exhalation, especially through your nose, generate rhythms that move through your mind and change the way it works. We are interested in comparing nasal breathing with mouth breathing, and to better understand how respiratory rhythms affect the brain. ”


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