Impairment of olfactory identification in obsessive-compulsive disorder

Psychol Med. 1999 Sep;29(5):1227-33. doi: 10.1017/s0033291799008818.


Background: Olfactory identification ability has been associated with processing in the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC), an area that has been implicated in the pathophysiology of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Although olfactory sensitivity is normal in patients with OCD, no study has investigated olfactory identification in this disorder.

Methods: A group of 20 subjects with OCD and 23 age- and education-matched controls performed a standardized test of olfactory identification. They also performed computerized tests of spatial memory span, spatial working memory and spatial recognition memory that have been shown previously to be sensitive to cognitive deficits in patients with OCD.

Results: Performance on the olfactory identification task, spatial recognition task and spatial span task was significantly worse in the OCD group than controls.

Conclusions: While impairment in spatial cognition is consistent with previous studies of OCD, its significance for brain-behaviour models of OCD is unclear. However, the finding of abnormal olfactory identification in patients with OCD is consistent with the hypothesis that there is a disruption to processing at the level of the OFC in the disorder.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Female
  • Frontal Lobe / pathology
  • Frontal Lobe / physiology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Models, Psychological
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder / complications*
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder / psychology
  • Olfaction Disorders / physiopathology*