Olfactory identification and discrimination in obsessive-compulsive disorder

Depress Anxiety. 2011 Oct 3;28(10):932-40. doi: 10.1002/da.20836. Epub 2011 May 26.


Background: Neuroimaging and neuropsychological data from patients with an obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) indicate the dysfunction of the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC). Olfactory processing has been associated with OFC function, although results from OCD studies regarding this sensory modality have been inconclusive. No previous study has analyzed both odor discrimination and identification capacity in OCD patients using "Sniffin' Sticks" tests. The aim of our study was to assess odor threshold, identification, discrimination, and nonverbal memory in OCD patients, in order to determine whether these functions were affected.

Methods: Olfactory function was measured in 29 OCD patients and 29 healthy volunteers (HV) using the "Sniffin' Sticks" test and their nonverbal memory was scored with the Rey-Osterrieth Complex Figure Test.

Results: OCD patients showed significant impairment in their odor performance and in their execution of the nonverbal memory task compared to HV. No statistical associations were found between the deficits in the two areas. The severity of depressive and obsessive-compulsive symptoms did correlate with olfactory identification.

Conclusion: Our findings support the hypothesis that olfactory and memory dysfunctions in OCD reflect different neurobiological alterations of the disorder, and point to the modulation effect of depressive and obsessive-compulsive symptoms on odor performance.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Depression / diagnosis
  • Depression / psychology
  • Discrimination, Psychological / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Memory / physiology
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder / diagnosis
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder / psychology*
  • Olfactory Perception / physiology*
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Smell / physiology