Magnetic Resonance Imaging as a Diagnostic and Research Tool in Patients with Olfactory Dysfunction: A Systematic Review

Nanki Hura, Julie S. Yi, Sandra Y. Lin, Christopher R. Roxbury

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Patients with acquired, idiopathic olfactory dysfunction (OD) commonly undergo magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) evaluation to rule out intracranial pathologies. This practice is highly debated given the expense of MRI relative to the probability of detecting a treatable lesion. This, combined with the increasing use of MRI in research to investigate the mechanisms underlying OD, provided the impetus for this comprehensive review. Objective: The purpose of this systematic review was to both assess the utility of MRI in diagnosis of idiopathic OD and to describe MRI findings among mixed OD etiologies to better understand its role as a research tool in this patient population. Methods: A literature search of PubMed, Embase, Cochrane, Web of Science, and Scopus for studies with original MRI data for patients with OD was completed. Studies exclusively investigating patients with neurocognitive deficits or those studying traumatic or congenital etiologies of OD were excluded. Results: From 1758 candidate articles, 33 studies were included. Four studies reviewed patients with idiopathic OD for structural pathologies on MRI, of which 17 of 372 (4.6%) patients had a potential central cause identified, and 3 (0.8%) had an olfactory meningioma or olfactory neuroblastoma. Fourteen studies (42.4%) reported significant correlation between olfactory bulb volume and olfactory outcomes, and 6 studies (18.8%) reported gray matter volume reduction, specifically in the orbitofrontal cortex, anterior cingulate cortex, insular cortex, parahippocampal, and piriform cortex areas, in patients with mixed OD etiologies. Functional MRI studies reported reduced brain activation and functional connectivity in olfactory network areas. Conclusion: MRI uncommonly detects intracranial pathology in patients with idiopathic OD. Among patients with mixed OD etiologies, reduced olfactory bulb and gray matter volume are the most common abnormal findings on MRI. Further research is required to better understand the role of MRI and its cost-effectiveness in patients with acquired, idiopathic OD.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)668-683
Number of pages16
JournalAmerican Journal of Rhinology and Allergy
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 2022


  • functional magnetic resonance imaging
  • gray matter volume
  • magnetic resonance imaging
  • olfactory bulb
  • olfactory dysfunction
  • olfactory meningioma
  • white matter volume

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology and Allergy
  • Otorhinolaryngology


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