Olfactory dysfunction is among the earliest nonmotor features of Parkinson disease (PD). Such dysfunction is present in approximately 90% of early-stage PD cases and can precede the onset of motor symptoms by years. The mechanisms responsible for olfactory dysfunction are currently unknown. As equivalent deficits are observed in Alzheimer disease, Down syndrome, and the Parkinson-dementia complex of Guam, a common pathological substrate may be involved. Given that olfactory loss occurs to a lesser extent or is absent in disorders such as multiple system atrophy, corticobasal degeneration, and progressive supranuclear palsy, olfactory testing can be useful in differential diagnosis. The olfactory dysfunction in PD and a number of related diseases with smell loss correlates with decreased numbers of neurons in structures such as the locus coeruleus, the raphe nuclei, and the nucleus basalis of Meynart. These neuroanatomical findings, together with evidence for involvement of the autonomic nervous system in numerous PD-related symptoms, suggest that deficits in cholinergic, noradrenergic and serotonergic function may contribute to the olfactory loss. This Review discusses the current understanding of olfactory dysfunction in PD, including factors that may be related to its cause.