Distribution of Olfactory Epithelium in the Primate Nasal Cavity: Are Microsmia and Macrosmia Valid Morphological Concepts?

Anat Rec A Discov Mol Cell Evol Biol. 2004 Nov;281(1):1173-81. doi: 10.1002/ar.a.20122.


The terms "microsmatic" and "macrosmatic" are used to compare species with greater versus lesser olfactory capabilities, such as carnivores compared to certain primates. These categories have been morphologically defined based on the size of olfactory bulb and surface area of olfactory epithelium in the nasal fossa. The present study examines assumptions regarding the morphological relationship of bony elements to the olfactory mucosa, the utility of olfactory epithelial surface area as a comparative measurement, and the utility of the microsmatic concept. We examined the distribution of olfactory neuroepithelium (OE) across the anteroposterior length of the nasal fossa (from the first completely enclosed cross-section of the nasal fossa to the choanae) in the microsmatic marmoset (Callithrix jacchus) compared to four species of nocturnal strepsirrhines (Otolemur crassicaudatus, O. garnetti, Microcebus murinus, and Cheirogaleus medius). Adults of all species were examined and infant C. jacchus, O. crassicaudatus, M. murinus, and C. medius were also examined. All specimens were serially sectioned in the coronal plane and prepared for light microscopic study. Distribution of OE across all the turbinals, nasal septal surfaces, and accessory spaces of the nasal chamber was recorded for each specimen. The right nasal fossae of one adult C. jacchus and one neonatal M. murinus were also three-dimensionally reconstructed using Scion Image software to reveal OE distribution. Findings showed OE to be distributed relatively more anteriorly in adult C. jacchus compared to strepsirrhines. It was also distributed more anteriorly along the nasal septal walls and recesses in neonates than adults. Our findings also showed that OE surface area was not a reliable proxy for receptor neuron numbers due to differing OE thickness among species. Such results indicate that nasal cavity morphology must be carefully reconsidered regarding traditional functional roles (olfaction versus air conditioning) assigned to various nasal cavity structures. At present, the microsmatic concept itself lacks a basis in nasal chamber morphology, since OE may have varying patterns of distribution among different primates.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological / physiology
  • Aging / physiology
  • Animals
  • Animals, Newborn
  • Circadian Rhythm / physiology
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Nasal Cavity / anatomy & histology*
  • Nasal Cavity / physiology
  • Olfactory Mucosa / anatomy & histology*
  • Olfactory Mucosa / growth & development*
  • Olfactory Receptor Neurons / cytology
  • Olfactory Receptor Neurons / physiology
  • Phylogeny
  • Primates / anatomy & histology*
  • Primates / growth & development*
  • Smell / physiology*
  • Species Specificity