Olfactory deficits have been reported in bipolar disorder, but this finding is controversial. This study investigated whether olfactory deficit can serve as a specific marker for bipolar disorder by comparing olfactory function in different mood episodes of bipolar disorder. We also compared olfactory function in bipolar disorder and other mental disorders – namely, major depressive disorder and schizophrenia.
The study consisted of two experiments. Experiment 1 enrolled 175 bipolar disorder patients (70 depressed subgroup, 70 manic subgroup and 35 euthymic subgroup) and 47 controls. Experiment 2 enrolled the participants from Experiment 1, along with 85 major depressive disorder and 90 schizophrenia patients. The Sniffin’ Sticks test was used to evaluate odour identification ability and odour threshold (as a measure of odour sensitivity). The Hamilton Depression Rating Scale and Young Mania Rating Scale were used to assess depressive symptoms in all subjects and manic symptoms in bipolar disorder patients, respectively. We also used the Positive and Negative Syndrome Scale to assess clinical symptoms in schizophrenia patients.
All three bipolar disorder patient subgroups (depressed, manic and euthymic subgroup) showed reduced odour identification ability compared to controls; however, only patients in the acute phase of a mood episode (depressed, and manic subgroup) showed impaired odour sensitivity. Clinical symptoms were negatively correlated with odour sensitivity but not odour identification ability. Bipolar disorder and major depressive disorder patients showed less odour identification and sensitivity impairment than schizophrenia patients.
Odour sensitivity is a potential dopaminergic marker for distinguishing between bipolar disorder patients in acute phase vs remission, while odour identification is a trait but a nonspecific marker of bipolar disorder.