Patients with seasonal affective disorder have lower odor detection thresholds than control subjects

Teodor T. Postolache, Thomas A. Wehr, Richard L. Doty, Leo Sher, Erick H. Turner, John J. Bartko, Norman E. Rosenthal

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

48 Scopus citations


Background: Behavioral changes in patients with seasonal affective disorder resemble seasonal changes in photoperiodic animals. Because the olfactory system has a modulatory role in seasonal photoperiodic responses in certain species, we hypothesized that olfactory function may differ between patients with seasonal affective disorder and healthy control subjects. Methods: Fourteen patients who had winter seasonal affective disorder and 16 healthy volunteers were studied once in winter and once in the subsequent summer. We administered a phenyl ethyl alcohol detection threshold test to each side of the nose in a counterbalanced order, with the nostril contralateral to the tested site occluded. Patient and control data were compared using a 4-way repeated measure analysis of covariance (with group and gender as between-subjects factors, season and side-of-the-nose as within-subjects factors, and age as a covariate). Results: The patients exhibited lower thresholds than did the controls (F1.25=9.2; P=.006). There was no main effect of season. Conclusion: In humans, marked seasonal behavioral rhythms with recurrent winter depression may be associated with a more acute sense of smell.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1119-1122
Number of pages4
JournalArchives of General Psychiatry
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 1 2002
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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