Reciting entire books, drawing cities in great detail 15 years later, these memory feats rely on the navigation of spatial representations of information, called cognitive maps. Although commonly associated with vision, spatial navigation would have first relied on olfaction. Recent studies support this hypothesis and have shown that, contrary to other sensory modalities, space is mapped in the primary olfactory cortex of rodents and humans. Not only do olfaction and memory share some of the same brain regions, but they also rely on similar mechanisms to model space, which is essential for learning cognitive maps. The objective of this research project is to characterize the still unexplored selective advantage of spatial representations in human olfactory brain regions for learning and memory using a naturalistic 3D video game. We will determine whether odors can be used as landmarks to guide learning of cognitive maps and lead to better memory performance than visual cues in healthy participants. The results of this project will advance our understanding of the mechanistic links between olfaction, navigation and memory, and will provide the first answer to the role of spatial representations in human olfactory areas.
Keywords: spatial navigation, olfaction, vision, memory, cognitive maps
Activities: pilot testings, behavioral experiments, odor manipulations and data analyses