COVID-19 and the Chemical Senses: Supporting Players Take Center Stage

Neuron. 2020 Jul 22;107(2):219-233. doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2020.06.032. Epub 2020 Jul 1.


The main neurological manifestation of COVID-19 is loss of smell or taste. The high incidence of smell loss without significant rhinorrhea or nasal congestion suggests that SARS-CoV-2 targets the chemical senses through mechanisms distinct from those used by endemic coronaviruses or other common cold-causing agents. Here we review recently developed hypotheses about how SARS-CoV-2 might alter the cells and circuits involved in chemosensory processing and thereby change perception. Given our limited understanding of SARS-CoV-2 pathogenesis, we propose future experiments to elucidate disease mechanisms and highlight the relevance of this ongoing work to understanding how the virus might alter brain function more broadly.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Betacoronavirus*
  • COVID-19
  • Coronavirus Infections / epidemiology
  • Coronavirus Infections / physiopathology*
  • Humans
  • Olfaction Disorders / epidemiology
  • Olfaction Disorders / physiopathology*
  • Olfaction Disorders / virology
  • Olfactory Bulb / physiopathology
  • Olfactory Bulb / virology
  • Olfactory Mucosa / physiopathology
  • Olfactory Mucosa / virology
  • Pandemics
  • Pneumonia, Viral / epidemiology
  • Pneumonia, Viral / physiopathology*
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Smell / physiology*
  • Taste / physiology*
  • Taste Disorders / epidemiology
  • Taste Disorders / physiopathology*
  • Taste Disorders / virology