Human olfactory epithelium in normal aging, alzheimer's disease, and other neurodegenerative disorders

John Q. Trojanowski, Paul D. Newman, William D. Hill, Virginia M.‐Y Lee

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

117 Scopus citations


By use of immunohistochemistry, we characterized the molecular phenotype of human olfactory epithelial (OE) cells and assessed the nature of the dystrophic olfactory neurites described initially in Alzheimer's disease (AD). Keratin 8 was present in all classes of OE cells. Sustentacular cells lacked other cell type specific polypeptides and were distinguished from neurons and basal cells because the latter two classes of OE cells expressed neural cell adhesion molecules (N‐CAMs) and microtubule associated proteins (MAPs), i.e., MAP5. Basal cells expressed nerve growth factor receptors (NGFRs), which distinguished them from olfactory neurons. Unlike their perikarya, olfactory axons expressed vimentin and GAP‐43, but not peripherin or neurofilament (NF) proteins. Olfactory nerves were distinguished from other axons because the latter were positive for all three NF subunits and peripherin, in addition to vimentin and GAP‐43. Dystrophic neurites in the OE were GAP‐43 positive, but they also expressed proteins that were not detected in normal olfactory nerves (i.e., synaptophysin, MAP2, tau, peripherin, NF proteins). Further, rare NF positive olfactory neurons gave rise to NF positive dystrophic neurites. These neurites were present in all 11 AD cases, 11 of 14 subjects with other neurodegenerative diseases, and 6 of 8 neurologically normal adult controls, but no dystrophic neurites were seen in 9 fetal and neonatal case. We conclude that the molecular phenotype of different human OE cells is distinct and that dystrophic olfactory neurites occur very frequently in neurologically normal adults. The relevance of these neurites to aging or specific disease processes remains speculativ.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)365-376
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Comparative Neurology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Aug 15 1991
Externally publishedYes


  • cytoskeleton
  • dystrophic neurites
  • olfactory neurons

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)


Dive into the research topics of 'Human olfactory epithelium in normal aging, alzheimer's disease, and other neurodegenerative disorders'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this