The nose revisited: a brief review of the comparative structure, function, and toxicologic pathology of the nasal epithelium

Toxicol Pathol. 2006;34(3):252-69. doi: 10.1080/01926230600713475.


The nose is a very complex organ with multiple functions that include not only olfaction, but also the conditioning (e.g., humidifying, warming, and filtering) of inhaled air. The nose is also a "scrubbing tower" that removes inhaled chemicals that may be harmful to the more sensitive tissues in the lower tracheobronchial airways and pulmonary parenchyma. Because the nasal airway may also be a prime target for many inhaled toxicants, it is important to understand the comparative aspects of nasal structure and function among laboratory animals commonly used in inhalation toxicology studies, and how nasal tissues and cells in these mammalian species may respond to inhaled toxicants. The surface epithelium lining the nasal passages is often the first tissue in the nose to be directly injured by inhaled toxicants. Five morphologically and functionally distinct epithelia line the mammalian nasal passages--olfactory, respiratory, squamous, transitional, and lymphoepithelial--and each nasal epithelium may be injured by an inhaled toxicant. Toxicant-induced epithelial lesions in the nasal passages of laboratory animals (and humans) are often site-specific and dependent on the intranasal regional dose of the inhaled chemical and the sensitivity of the nasal epithelial tissue to the specific chemical. In this brief review, we present examples of nonneoplastic epithelial lesions (e.g., cell death, hyperplasia, metaplasia) caused by single or repeated exposure to various inhaled chemical toxicants. In addition, we provide examples of how nasal maps may be used to record the character, magnitude and distribution of toxicant-induced epithelial injury in the nasal airways of laboratory animals. Intranasal mapping of nasal histopathology (or molecular and biochemical alterations to the nasal mucosa) may be used along with innovative dosimetric models to determine dose/response relationships and to understand if site-specific lesions are driven primarily by airflow, by tissue sensitivity, or by another mechanism of toxicity. The present review provides a brief overview of comparative nasal structure, function and toxicologic pathology of the mammalian nasal epithelium and a brief discussion on how data from animal toxicology studies have been used to estimate the risk of inhaled chemicals to human health.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Nasal Mucosa / anatomy & histology*
  • Nasal Mucosa / pathology*
  • Nasal Mucosa / physiology*
  • Nose Diseases / chemically induced*
  • Nose Diseases / pathology*