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OBJECTIVE: To evaluate olfactory function in Parkinson's disease. METHODS: A standardised odour identification test was used, together with an evoked potential assessment with hydrogen sulphide. In addition, histological analysis was performed on the olfactory bulbs of cadavers who died from Parkinson's disease. RESULTS: Over 70% of patients studied (71 of 96) were outside the 95% limit of normal on the identification test in an age matched sample and there was an unusual pattern of selective loss to certain odours, not hitherto described. The evoked potentials were significantly delayed but of comparable amplitude to a control matched population. Of the 73 patients studied only 37 had a technically satisfactory record containing a clear response to both gases and of these, 12 were delayed. For H2S there was more delay on stimulating the right nostril than the left. Some patients with normal smell identification test scores had delayed evoked potentials. In the pathological examination of olfactory bulbs from eight brains, changes characteristic of Parkinson's disease (Lewy bodies) were seen in every olfactory bulb, particularly in the anterior olfactory nucleus, and were sufficiently distinct to allow a presumptive diagnosis of Parkinson's disease. CONCLUSIONS: Olfactory damage in Parkinson's disease is consistent and severe and may provide an important clue to the aetiology of the disease.