Pathologic changes in olfactory neurons in Alzheimer's disease

Ann N Y Acad Sci. 1991;640:1-7. doi: 10.1111/j.1749-6632.1991.tb00182.x.


Olfactory deficits and degenerative changes in central olfactory pathways are prominent in patients with Alzheimer's disease (AD). We hypothesized that peripheral olfactory neurons that reside in the nasal epithelium would show degenerative changes similar to the characteristic pathologic features of AD brain. Immunohistochemical studies of nasal tissue taken at autopsy reveal extensive degeneration in the sensory epithelium as well as abnormal neurites that share immunoreactive epitopes with dystrophic neurites and neurofibrillary tangles of the AD brain. The neuritic masses are stained with well-characterized monoclonal antibodies that do not normally stain olfactory neurons but which are very reactive with dystrophic neuritic structures and neurofibrillary tangles in AD brain. These include antibodies to phosphorylated and nonphosphorylated neurofilament subunits, tau, and also ALZ50, which is characteristically reactive with AD but not with normal brains. Such changes are present in 81% of AD patients. Similar accumulations of ectopic neurites are found in the olfactory epithelium of about 22% of non-demented patients. Preliminary statistical analysis fails to reveal any age-linked association. It has been proposed that the aged monkey is a good model for AD inasmuch as amyloid accumulations similar to those of humans are found in monkey brain. We examined a series of 13 rhesus monkeys, including aged animals with behavioral deficits. Although the olfactory epithelium was very similar to that of humans, no abnormal olfactory structures were observed. Aged rhesus monkeys do not appear to be a good model for the neuritic abnormalities of AD.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Alzheimer Disease / pathology*
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal
  • Brain / pathology
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Microtubule-Associated Proteins / chemistry
  • Nasal Cavity / cytology
  • Neurons / chemistry
  • Neurons / pathology
  • Olfactory Pathways / chemistry
  • Olfactory Pathways / pathology*
  • tau Proteins / chemistry


  • Antibodies, Monoclonal
  • Microtubule-Associated Proteins
  • tau Proteins