Olfaction is one of the most conserved senses across species. It plays a crucial role in animals’ and humans’ life by influencing food intake, reproduction and social behavior. The olfactory system is composed of a peripheral neuroepithelium and a central olfactory nerve and is one of the few central nervous system (CNS) structures with direct access to the external environment without passage through the Blood Brain Barrier (BBB). This makes this nerve system of importance for understanding how exogenous stimuli may contribute to neuronal damage as well as for diagnostic and therapeutic purposes. Interestingly, olfactory activity physiologically declines with aging, but its alteration can be further impaired by various neurological conditions. For example, in progressive neurodegenerative disorders, such as Alzheimer’s disease (AD), olfaction is the first sense to be impaired before the onset of cognitive symptoms, suggesting that olfactory transmission may characterize early neural network imbalances. In this work, we will explore the main olfactory anatomical structures, the cytoarchitecture, the neurogenesis, several pathological conditions characterized by olfactory deficit and the potential use of this sense to diagnose and treat CNS pathologies.
Part of the book: Sensory Nervous System