Newborns have a functioning sense of smell at birth, which appears to be highly significant for feeding and bonding. Still, little is known about the cerebral odor processing in this age group. Studies of olfactory function relied mostly on behavioral, autonomic, and facial responses of infants. The aim of the present study was to investigate central odor processing in infants focusing on electroencephalography (EEG)-derived responses to biologically significant odors, namely a food and a non-food odor. A total of 21 term-born, healthy infants participated (11 boys and 10 girls; age range 2–9 months, mean 5.3 ± 2.2 months). Odor stimuli were presented using a computer-controlled olfactometer. Breast milk was used as food odor. Farnesol was presented as a non-food odor. In addition, odorless air was used as a control stimulus. Each stimulus was presented 30 times for 1 s with an interstimulus interval of 20 s. EEG was recorded from 9 electrodes and analyzed in the frequency domain. EEG amplitudes in the delta frequency band differed significantly after presentation of food (breast milk) odor in comparison to the control condition and the non-food odor (farnesol). These changes were observed at the frontal recording positions. The present study indicates that central odor processing differs between a food and a non-food odor in infants. Results are interpreted in terms of focused attention towards a physiologically relevant odor (breast milk), suggesting that olfactory stimuli are of specific significance in this age group.

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