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Chem Senses. 2000 Aug;25(4):369-80.

The vomeronasal cavity in adult humans.

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  • 1Neurobiologie Sensorielle, Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes, 1 Avenue des Olympiades, F-91305 Massy and Physiologie Oro-Faciale, JE 359, Université Paris 7, 2 place Jussieu, F-75251 Paris, France.


We observed the surface of the anterior part of the nasal septum of living subjects using an endoscope. In approximately 13% of 1842 patients without pathology of the septum, the vomeronasal pit was clearly observed on each side of the septum, and in 26% it was observed only on one side. The remaining observations indicated either the presence of putative pits or no visible evidence of a pit. However, repetitive observations on 764 subjects depicted changes over time, from nothing visible to well-defined pits and vice versa. Based on 130 subjects observed at least four times, we estimate that approximately 73% of the population exhibits at least one clearly defined pit on some days. By computer tomography, the vomeronasal cavities were located at the base of the most anterior part of the nasal septum. Histological studies indicated that the vomeronasal cavities consisted of a pit generally connected to a duct extending in a posterior direction under the nasal mucosa. Many glands were present around the duct, which contained mucus. There was no sign of the pumping elements found in other mammalian species. Most cells in the vomeronasal epithelium expressed keratin, a protein not expressed by olfactory neurons. Vomeronasal epithelial cells were not stained by an antibody against the olfactory marker protein, a protein expressed in vomeronasal receptor neurons of other mammals. Moreover, an antibody against protein S100, expressed in Schwann cells, failed to reveal the existence of vomeronasal nerve bundles that would indicate a neural connection with the brain. Positive staining was obtained with the same antibodies on specimens of human olfactory epithelium. The lack of neurons and vomeronasal nerve bundles, together with the results of other studies, suggests that the vomeronasal epithelium, unlike in other mammals, is not a sensory organ in adult humans.

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