Anatomy of the olfactory system

Handb Clin Neurol. 2019:164:17-28. doi: 10.1016/B978-0-444-63855-7.00002-2.


Of the principal sensory systems (vision, olfaction, taste, hearing, and balance), olfaction is one of the oldest. This ubiquitous system has both peripheral and central subdivisions. The peripheral subdivision is comprised of the olfactory epithelium and nerve fascicles, whereas the central subdivision is made up of the olfactory bulb and its central connections. Humans lack the "accessory olfactory system" of many other mammals, exhibiting only a nonfunctioning vestige of its peripheral element, the vomeronasal organ. Compared to most mammals, major elements of the human olfactory system are reduced; for example, humans have fewer turbinates than many mammals, and their olfactory epithelia are found only on one or two of these structures and their adjacent surfaces. Nonetheless, humans retain a full complement of functional cellular elements including a regenerating population of olfactory sensory neurons. These neurons extend long ciliary processes into the mucus that form a mat of cilia on which the odorant receptors are located. The olfactory sensory neurons send their axons directly to synapse within the olfactory bulb. Mitral and tufted cells then relay impulses from the bulb to other brain regions. This chapter describes the general anatomy and microanatomy of the olfactory system.

Keywords: Concha; Human olfactory system; Olfaction; Olfactory receptor neurons; Smell; Turbinals.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Axons / pathology
  • Brain / anatomy & histology*
  • Humans
  • Nerve Tissue / anatomy & histology
  • Neurons / pathology*
  • Olfactory Bulb / anatomy & histology*
  • Smell / physiology*