Background: There is limited knowledge of the MRI pattern of the development of fetal olfactory bulbs and sulci.
Objective: To describe the MRI appearance of olfactory bulbs and sulci in normal in vivo fetuses according to gestational age.
Materials and methods: Olfactory bulbs and sulci were retrospectively assessed on brain MRI examinations of 88 normal fetuses between 24 and 39 weeks gestational age. Two reference centres were involved in the study and both used routine protocols that included axial and coronal T2- and T1-weighted sequences at 1.5 T. The results were compared both with the commonly used neuropathological data in the literature and with personal neuropathological data. Pearson's chi-squared test or Fisher's exact test were performed. One case of olfactory agenesis associated with CHARGE syndrome was identified.
Results: T2-weighted coronal sequences were the most sensitive for detecting olfactory bulbs and sulci. Olfactory sulci were significantly better detected from 30 weeks onwards (90.9-100%; P<0.001). MRI showed a posteroanterior development of these sulci. Olfactory bulbs were better detected from 30 to 34 weeks (80-90.9%; P<0.002). Comparison with neuropathological data confirmed the posteroanterior development of the sulci and showed an important delay in detection of the olfactory structures (bulbs and sulci). No difference was observed between the two centres involved.
Conclusions: To date, fetal MRI can depict olfactory sulci from 30 weeks gestational age onwards and olfactory bulbs from 30 to 34 weeks gestational age. This preliminary reference standard is useful to assess the normality of the olfactory system and to diagnose olfactory agenesis.