Machine-learned pattern identification in olfactory subtest results

Sci Rep. 2016 Oct 20;6:35688. doi: 10.1038/srep35688.


The human sense of smell is often analyzed as being composed of three main components comprising olfactory threshold, odor discrimination and the ability to identify odors. A relevant distinction of the three components and their differential changes in distinct disorders remains a research focus. The present data-driven analysis aimed at establishing a cluster structure in the pattern of olfactory subtest results. Therefore, unsupervised machine-learning was applied onto olfactory subtest results acquired in 10,714 subjects with nine different olfactory pathologies. Using the U-matrix, Emergent Self-organizing feature maps (ESOM) identified three different clusters characterized by (i) low threshold and good discrimination and identification, (ii) very high threshold associated with absent to poor discrimination and identification ability, or (iii) medium threshold, i.e., in the mid-range of possible thresholds, associated with reduced discrimination and identification ability. Specific etiologies of olfactory (dys)function were unequally represented in the clusters (p < 2.2 · 10-16). Patients with congenital anosmia were overrepresented in the second cluster while subjects with postinfectious olfactory dysfunction belonged frequently to the third cluster. However, the clusters provided no clear separation between etiologies. Hence, the present verification of a distinct cluster structure encourages continued scientific efforts at olfactory test pattern recognition.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Child
  • Cluster Analysis
  • Diagnostic Tests, Routine / methods*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Machine Learning*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Olfaction Disorders / diagnosis*
  • Olfaction Disorders / etiology*
  • Olfaction Disorders / pathology
  • Olfaction Disorders / physiopathology
  • Olfactory Perception*
  • Smell*
  • Young Adult