On the Life Span of Olfactory Receptor Neurons

Eur J Neurosci. 1991;3(3):209-215. doi: 10.1111/j.1460-9568.1991.tb00081.x.


The life span of olfactory receptor neurons was investigated after injection of a retrograde tracer into the olfactory bulb. Mice were injected unilaterally with colloidal gold conjugated with Concanavalin A and their olfactory epithelia were examined after 7, 14, 30, 60, and 90 days. Gold particles could be seen in the epithelia at all survival periods after silver intensification. There was no gold in the epithelia on the uninjected side. In order to test whether gold could be recycled within the epithelium upon the death of receptor neurons, the olfactory bulbs of some mice were ablated 4 days after colloidal gold injection. None of the receptor neurons in these epithelia contained gold at any survival period. To investigate whether gold was continuously available at the injection site, olfactory bulbs were examined by electron microscopy. By 7 days after injection all gold was sequestered intracellularly and was presumably unavailable for uptake by the olfactory axons. These results indicate that olfactory receptor neurons live for at least three times the commonly accepted life span of 30 days. A long life span challenges the widely held view that olfactory receptor neurons are regularly replaced.