onas Olofsson. Foto: Markus Marcetic/Knut och Alice Wallenbergs Stiftelse/Kungl. Vetenskapsakademien.
Jonas Olofsson. Photo: Markus Marcetic/The Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation/The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.

Researchers have long assumed that the brain stores and brings back memories in a similar manner, whether the impressions are from sight, hearing, touch, taste, or smell. However, there is growing evidence that the olfactory memory is very different to visual memory. For example, it is very difficult to describe smells or to recognize them, while some smells can reawaken strong childhood memories.

To understand how scents affect the human brain, Associate Professor Jonas Olofsson at Stockholm University will observe patterns of activity in the parts of the brain that we now know are important for olfactory memory. Using the very latest methods for brain imaging, he will investigate how smells associate with linguistic concepts (for example how the word rose associates with the scent of a rose) and how olfactory impressions are linked to particular places to form episodic memories. By comparing this with visual impressions he will investigate what differentiates olfactory memories from visual memories.

“As a Wallenberg Academy Fellow, I want to use brain imaging methods to explore how different sensory experiences can be stored in such different ways in our memories. It can help us understand why dementia makes different memories disappear, while others are preserved”, says Jonas Olofsson.

Jonas Olofsson will also study people with a high risk of dementia and try to understand why olfactory memory often declines early in the progression of dementia. In addition, he will investigate whether smell-based memory training can strengthen the brain and be used to treat people in the early stages of dementia.

“Wallenberg Academy Fellows is a group of wonderfully talented young researchers, and it will be fun to get to know them”, he says.

More about Jonas Olofsson's research.