The superior turbinate as a source of functional human olfactory receptor neurons

Andrew P. Lane, George Gomez, Tatyana Dankulich, Hongyan Wang, William E. Bolger, Nancy E. Rawson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Scopus citations


Objectives: The function of human olfactory receptor neurons (ORNs) remains incompletely understood, in part because of the difficulty of obtaining viable olfactory tissue for study. During endoscopic sphenoidotomy, a portion of the superior turbinate is often removed to achieve wide and safe access to the sphenoid sinus. The purpose of this study was to determine whether functional olfactory mucosa could be obtained from such superior turbinate tissue. Study Design/Methods: Superior turbinate tissue was resected from 4 patients undergoing transnasal endoscopic approaches to the sphenoid sinus. The gross appearance of the turbinate mucosa was normal at the time of surgery. The specimens were placed directly into cold cell culture media and transferred to the laboratory. A portion of the mucosa was fixed and embedded for histology and immunohistochemistry. The remaining tissue was enzymatically dissociated, and the resulting cell suspension was either prepared for immediate calcium imaging or placed into cell culture. Cultured ORNs underwent calcium imaging after several weeks to assess their ability to respond to odorants. Results: Histologic analysis of superior turbinate tissue revealed the presence of patchy olfactory neuroepithelium staining positive for olfactory marker protein. Acutely dissociated ORNs were capable of generating calcium responses to odorant mixtures. ORNs could be maintained in mixed culture and retained their ability to respond to odorants. Conclusions: Superior turbinate tissue removed during endoscopic sphenoidotomy can provide a valuable source of human olfactory neuroepithelium for functional or histologic study. Superior turbinate tissue yields stem cells and immature neurons capable of differentiating into ORNs that retain many of their functional characteristics even after growth in culture.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1183-1189
Number of pages7
Issue number7
StatePublished - 2002


  • Calcium imaging
  • Human olfactory receptor neurons
  • Superior turbinate

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Otorhinolaryngology


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