Olfactory Dysfunction as an Early Biomarker in Parkinson’s Disease

Michelle E. Fullard1,2 • James F. Morley1,2 • John E. Duda1,2

1Parkinson’s Disease Research, Education and Clinical Center, Corporal Michael J. Crescenz VA Medical Center, Philadelphia, USA
2Department of Neurology, University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, Philadelphia, USA

Olfactory dysfunction is common in Parkinson’s disease (PD) and often predates the diagnosis by years, reflecting early deposition of Lewy pathology, the histologic hallmark of PD, in the olfactory bulb. Clinical tests are available that allow for the rapid characterization of olfactory dysfunction, including tests of odor identification, discrimination, detection, and recognition thresholds, memory, and tests assessing the build-up of odor intensity across increasing suprathreshold stimulus concentrations. The high prevalence of olfactory impairment, along with the ease and low cost of assessment, has fostered great interest in olfaction as a potential biomarker for PD. Hyposmia may help differentiate PD from other causes of parkinsonism, and may also aid in the identification of “pre-motor” PD due to the early pathologic involvement of olfactory pathways. Olfactory function is also correlated with other non-motor features of PD and may serve as a predictor of cognitive decline. In this article, we summarize the existing literature on olfaction in PD, focusing on the potential for olfaction as a biomarker for early or differential diagnosis and prognosis.

Keywords: Olfaction; Parkinson’s disease; Biomarker; Parkinsonism; Pathology


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