London: Can`t smell the roses? Well, maybe you`re depressed, says a new study, which has found that the part of depressed people’s brain responsible for the sense of smell is smaller than normal.
The new finding could explain why many psychological disorders such as depression, schizophrenia and seasonal affective disorder seem to suppress the sense of smell, and it has implications for the treatment of depression itself, reports New Scientist.
To reach the conclusion, researchers at the University of Dresden Medical School in Germany exposed people – 21 with major depression and 21 who weren`t depressed – to a chemical with a faint odour, gradually increasing the concentration until the volunteers could smell it.
The researchers also measured the volunteers` olfactory bulbs – the part of the brain that gives us our sense of smell – using magnetic resonance imaging.
Non-depressed people were able to smell the chemical at significantly lower levels than the depressed volunteers. The depressed also had much smaller olfactory bulbs, on average by 15 percent.
The researchers also found that the more severely depressed a person was, the smaller their olfactory bulb. The effects were present whether or not an individual was taking antidepressant drugs.
The researchers say that olfactory bulb volume and depression are probably linked by the process of neurogenesis, the growth of new neurons in the brain.
Depression is known to inhibit neurogenesis in brain areas such as the hippocampus, and depressed people often have low blood levels of a chemical called brain-derived neurotropic factor, which promotes neurogenesis.
Senior author Thomas Hummel says that the work has implications for treating depression. Olfactory bulb volume could be used as an objective measure of whether a treatment is working, he says.
The study appears in the Journal Neuroscience.