Send to

Choose Destination
Int Forum Allergy Rhinol. 2019 Feb;9(2):158-164. doi: 10.1002/alr.22237. Epub 2018 Nov 27.

Induction of smell through transethmoid electrical stimulation of the olfactory bulb.

Author information

Department of Otolaryngology, Massachusetts Eye and Ear, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA.
Department of Otolaryngology and Department of Genetics, Washington University School of Medicine, St Louis, MO.
Department of Neurology, Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA.
Department of Neurology, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA.



Anosmia has an estimated prevalence of 5% of the general population. Outside of inflammatory causes, therapeutic options are limited despite research advances. Bypassing peripheral neuronal damage through central stimulation is a potential therapeutic option that has shown success in other sensory systems, most notably with hearing. We performed a pilot study to determine the feasibility of inducing smell through artificial electrical stimulation of the olfactory bulbs in humans.


Subjects with a history of sinus surgery, including total ethmoidectomy, with intact ability to smell were enrolled. The ability to smell was confirmed with a 40-item smell identification test. Awake subjects underwent nasal endoscopy and either a monopolar or bipolar electrode was positioned at 3 areas along the lateral lamella of the cribriform plate within the ethmoid sinus cavity. A graded stimulation current of 1-20 mA at 3.17 Hz was administered while cortical evoked potential (CEP) recordings were collected. Subjective responses of perceived smell along with reports of discomfort were recorded. Subjects with artificially induced smell underwent repeat stimulation after medically induced anosmia.


Five subjects (age, 43-72 years) were enrolled. Three subjects reported smell perception smell with electrical stimulation. This was reproducible after inducing anosmia, but CEP recordings could not provide objective support. All subjects tolerated the study with minimal discomfort.


This is the first report of induced smell through transethmoid electrical stimulation of the olfactory bulb. These results provide a proof of concept for efforts in development of an olfactory implant system.


endoscopy; ethmoid bone; ethmoid sinus; humans; olfactory perception; olfactory receptor neurons


Supplemental Content

Full text links

Icon for Wiley
Loading ...
Support Center