Background. The function of human olfaction declines with advancing age. An important question centers on whether functional alterations to olfactory brain structures accompany age-related behavioral changes. In the present study, we tested the hypothesis that aged adults have intact though reduced activity in the central olfactory system using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Methods. University of Pennsylvania Smell Identification Test (UPSIT) was used to test the smell function of 11 young (23.9 ± 1.6 years) and 8 aged (66.4 ± 4.4 years) healthy participants. Then, the participants received fMRI at 3.0 T with lavender and spearmint as stimulants. After fMRI, the participants provided ratings for the odorants' intensity and pleasantness. Results. The average UPSIT score of the aged adults was 34.1 ± 1.5, which was significantly lower than that of the young adults (37.3 ± 1.1) (p = .0004). Both age groups showed significant activation in major olfactory brain structures, including the primary olfactory cortex, entorhinal cortex, hippocampus and parahippocampal cortex, thalamus, hypothalamus, orbitofrontal cortex, and insular cortex and its extension into the inferior lateral frontal region. The aged adults showed less brain activity in olfactory structures (p = .022), consistent with lower ratings of odor intensity and UPSIT scores. Activation intensity in bilateral primary olfactory cortex areas and right insular cortex was also comparatively weaker (p < .019). Conclusion. Results demonstrate that significant activation in aged adults can be observed in all the olfactory brain structures that are activated in young adults, but with lower activation volume and intensity. This finding provides a necessary baseline for further investigations in olfaction and aging.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)510-514
Number of pages5
JournalJournals of Gerontology - Series A Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2005

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Aging
  • Geriatrics and Gerontology


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