Environmental Toxicants-Induced Immune Responses in the Olfactory Mucosa

Front Immunol. 2016 Nov 4:7:475. doi: 10.3389/fimmu.2016.00475. eCollection 2016.


Olfactory sensory neurons (OSNs) are the receptor cells for the sense of smell. Although cell bodies are located in the olfactory mucosa (OM) of the nasal cavity, OSN axons directly project to the olfactory bulb (OB) that is a component of the central nervous system (CNS). Because of this direct and short connection from this peripheral tissue to the CNS, the olfactory system has attracted attention as a port-of-entry for environmental toxicants that may cause neurological dysfunction. Selected viruses can enter the OB via the OM and directly affect the CNS. On the other hand, environmental toxicants may induce inflammatory responses in the OM, including infiltration of immune cells and production of inflammatory cytokines. In addition, these inflammatory responses cause the loss of OSNs that are then replaced with newly generated OSNs that re-connect to the OB after inflammation has subsided. It is now known that immune cells and cytokines in the OM play important roles in both degeneration and regeneration of OSNs. Thus, the olfactory system is a unique neuroimmune interface where interaction between nervous and immune systems in the periphery significantly affects the structure, neuronal circuitry, and immunological status of the CNS. The mechanisms by which immune cells regulate OSN loss and the generation of new OSNs are, however, largely unknown. To help develop a better understanding of the mechanisms involved, we have provided a review of key research that has investigated how the immune response in the OM affects the pathophysiology of OSNs.

Keywords: immune system; inflammation; intranasal administration; neurodegenerative disease; olfactory dysfunction; olfactory epithelium; olfactory vector hypothesis.

Publication types

  • Review