Olfaction in neurodegenerative disorder

Mov Disord. 2003 Apr;18(4):364-72. doi: 10.1002/mds.10379.


There has been an increase of interest in olfactory dysfunction since it was realised that anosmia was a common feature of idiopathic Parkinson's disease (PD) and Alzheimer-type dementia (AD). It is an intriguing possibility that the first sign of a disorder hitherto regarded as one of movement or cognition may be that of disturbed smell sense. In this review of PD, parkinsonian syndromes, essential tremor, AD, motor neurone disease (MND) and Huntington's chorea (HC) the following observations are made: 1). olfactory dysfunction is frequent and often severe in PD and AD; 2). normal smell identification in PD is rare and should prompt review of diagnosis unless the patient is female with tremor-dominant disease; 3). anosmia in suspected progressive supranuclear palsy and corticobasal degeneration is atypical and should likewise provoke diagnostic review; 4). hyposmia is an early feature of PD and AD and may precede motor and cognitive signs respectively; 5). subjects with anosmia and one ApoE-4 allele have an approximate 5-fold increased risk of later AD; 6). impaired smell sense is seen in some patients at 50% risk of parkinsonism; 7). smell testing in HC and MND where abnormality may be found, is not likely to be of clinical value; and 8). biopsy of olfactory nasal neurons shows non-specific changes in PD and AD and at present will not aid diagnosis.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Apolipoprotein E4
  • Apolipoproteins E / genetics
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Neurodegenerative Diseases / diagnosis
  • Neurodegenerative Diseases / genetics
  • Neurodegenerative Diseases / physiopathology*
  • Olfaction Disorders / diagnosis
  • Olfaction Disorders / genetics
  • Olfaction Disorders / physiopathology*
  • Olfactory Bulb / physiopathology
  • Risk Factors
  • Sex Factors
  • Smell / genetics
  • Smell / physiology*


  • Apolipoprotein E4
  • Apolipoproteins E