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Laryngoscope. 2002 Apr;112(4):603-7.

Olfactory neural cells: an untapped diagnostic and therapeutic resource. The 2000 Ogura Lecture.

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  • 1Department of Surgery, University of Queensland, Australia.



This is an overview of the cellular biology of upper nasal mucosal cells that have special characteristics that enable them to be used to diagnose and study congenital neurological diseases and to aid neural repair.


After mapping the distribution of neural cells in the upper nose, the authors' investigations moved to the use of olfactory neurones to diagnose neurological diseases of development, especially schizophrenia. Olfactory-ensheathing glial cells (OEGs) from the cranial cavity promote axonal penetration of the central nervous system and aid spinal cord repair in rodents. The authors sought to isolate these cells from the more accessible upper nasal cavity in rats and in humans and prove they could likewise promote neural regeneration, making these cells suitable for human spinal repair investigations.


The schizophrenia-diagnosis aspect of the study entailed the biopsy of the olfactory areas of 10 schizophrenic patients and 10 control subjects. The tissue samples were sliced and grown in culture medium. The ease of cell attachment to fibronectin (artificial epithelial basement membrane), as well as the mitotic and apoptotic indices, was studied in the presence and absence of dopamine in those cell cultures. The neural repair part of the study entailed a harvesting and insertion of first rat olfactory lamina propria rich in OEGs between cut ends of the spinal cords and then later the microinjection of an OEG-rich suspension into rat spinal cords previously transected by open laminectomy. Further studies were done in which OEG insertion was performed up to 1 month after rat cord transection and also in monkeys.


Schizophrenic patients' olfactory tissues do not easily attach to basement membrane compared with control subjects, adding evidence to the theory that cell wall anomalies are part of the schizophrenic "lesion" of neurones. Schizophrenic patient cell cultures had higher mitotic and apoptotic indices compared with control subjects. The addition of dopamine altered these indices enough to allow accurate differentiation of schizophrenics from control patients, leading to, possibly for the first time, an early objective diagnosis of schizophrenia and possible assessment of preventive strategies. OEGs from the nose were shown to be as effective as those from the olfactory bulb in promoting axonal growth across transected spinal cords even when added 1 month after injury in the rat. These otherwise paraplegic rats grew motor and proprioceptive and fine touch fibers with corresponding behavioral improvement.


The tissues of the olfactory mucosa are readily available to the otolaryngologist. Being surface cells, they must regenerate (called "neurogenesis"). Biopsy of this area and amplification of cells in culture gives the scientist a "window to the developing brain," including early diagnosis of schizophrenia. The "Holy Grail" of neurological disease is the cure of traumatic paraplegia and OEGs from the nose promote that repair. The otolaryngologist may become the necessary partner of the neurophysiologist and spinal surgeon to take the laboratory potential of paraplegic cure into the day-to-day realm of clinical reality.

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