The Sense of Smell Impacts Metabolic Health and Obesity

Cell Metab. 2017 Jul 5;26(1):198-211.e5. doi: 10.1016/j.cmet.2017.06.015.


Olfactory inputs help coordinate food appreciation and selection, but their role in systemic physiology and energy balance is poorly understood. Here we demonstrate that mice upon conditional ablation of mature olfactory sensory neurons (OSNs) are resistant to diet-induced obesity accompanied by increased thermogenesis in brown and inguinal fat depots. Acute loss of smell perception after obesity onset not only abrogated further weight gain but also improved fat mass and insulin resistance. Reduced olfactory input stimulates sympathetic nerve activity, resulting in activation of β-adrenergic receptors on white and brown adipocytes to promote lipolysis. Conversely, conditional ablation of the IGF1 receptor in OSNs enhances olfactory performance in mice and leads to increased adiposity and insulin resistance. These findings unravel a new bidirectional function for the olfactory system in controlling energy homeostasis in response to sensory and hormonal signals.

Keywords: diet-induced obesity; energy balance; hyperosmia; hyposmia; insulin resistance; insulin-like growth factor 1 receptor; lipolysis; olfactory sensory neuron; thermogenesis.

MeSH terms

  • Adipose Tissue, Brown / metabolism
  • Adipose Tissue, Brown / physiopathology
  • Animals
  • Diet, High-Fat / adverse effects
  • Energy Metabolism
  • Insulin Resistance
  • Insulin-Like Growth Factor I / metabolism
  • Lipolysis
  • Mice
  • Obesity / etiology
  • Obesity / metabolism*
  • Obesity / physiopathology*
  • Olfactory Receptor Neurons / metabolism*
  • Olfactory Receptor Neurons / pathology
  • Receptors, Adrenergic, beta / metabolism
  • Smell*
  • Thermogenesis*
  • Weight Gain


  • Receptors, Adrenergic, beta
  • insulin-like growth factor-1, mouse
  • Insulin-Like Growth Factor I