The ''core'' subnucleus of the mediodorsal thalamic nucleus (MD) receives direct input from olfactory cortex in the rat. This part of MD projects to the frontal neocortex of the rhinal sulcus (RS), while other parts of the MD project to the anterior medial wall of the neocortex (MW). In this study, rats were tested on odor threshold, detection of specific odors, and three odor discriminations both before and after lesions of MD, MW, RS, or sham lesions. Olfactory threshold and detection ability remained unaffected by any of these lesions; however, subjects with MD and RS lesions were markedly impaired on odor discriminations. Furthermore, subjects were more profoundly impaired when the stimuli to be discriminated were novel or difficult to associate. Thus, MD and its ''olfactory'' projection target, RS, seem to mediate cognitive, rather than sensory aspects of odor-guided behavior in the rat.