The Olfactory Bulb: An Immunosensory Effector Organ during Neurotropic Viral Infections

ACS Chem Neurosci. 2016 Apr 20;7(4):464-9. doi: 10.1021/acschemneuro.6b00043. Epub 2016 Apr 8.


In 1935, the olfactory route was hypothesized to be a portal for virus entry into the central nervous system (CNS). This hypothesis was based on experiments in which nasophayngeal infection with poliovirus in monkeys was prevented from spreading to their CNS via transection of olfactory tracts between the olfactory neuroepithelium (ONE) of the nasal cavity and the olfactory bulb (OB). Since then, numerous neurotropic viruses have been observed to enter the CNS via retrograde transport along axons of olfactory sensory neurons whose cell bodies reside in the ONE. Importantly, this route of infection can occur even after subcutaneous inoculation of arboviruses that can cause encephalitis in humans. While the olfactory route is now accepted as an important pathway for viral entry into the CNS, it is unclear whether it provides a way for infection to spread to other brain regions. More recently, studies of antiviral innate and adaptive immune responses within the olfactory bulb suggest it provides early virologic control. Here we will review the data demonstrating that neurotropic viruses gain access to the CNS initially via the olfactory route with emphasis on findings that suggest the OB is a critical immunosensory effector organ that effectively clears virus.

Keywords: Olfactory bulb; encephalitis; neuroinvasion; olfactory sensory neurons; virus.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents / therapeutic use
  • Central Nervous System Viral Diseases / complications
  • Central Nervous System Viral Diseases / pathology*
  • Humans
  • Inflammation / etiology
  • Inflammation / prevention & control*
  • Neuroectodermal Tumors, Primitive, Peripheral
  • Olfactory Bulb / pathology*
  • Olfactory Bulb / virology*
  • Olfactory Receptor Neurons / pathology
  • Olfactory Receptor Neurons / virology
  • Receptors, Prostaglandin E, EP4 Subtype / metabolism
  • Signal Transduction / drug effects
  • Signal Transduction / physiology


  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents
  • Receptors, Prostaglandin E, EP4 Subtype