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Olfactory dysfunction is common in multiple sclerosis (MS). Olfactory bulb and tract pathology in MS and other demyelinating diseases remain unexplored. A human autopsy cohort of pathologically confirmed cases encompassing the spectrum of demyelinating disease (MS; n = 17), neuromyelitis optica [(NMO); n = 3] and acute disseminated encephalomyelitis [(ADEM); n = 7] was compared to neuroinflammatory [herpes simplex virus encephalitis (HSE); n = 3], neurodegenerative [Alzheimer's disease (AD); n = 4] and non-neurologic (n = 8) controls. For each case, olfactory bulbs and/or tracts were stained for myelin, axons and inflammation. Inferior frontal cortex and hippocampus were stained for myelin in a subset of MS and ADEM cases. Olfactory bulb/tract demyelination was frequent in all demyelinating diseases [MS 12/17 (70.6%); ADEM 3/7 (42.9%); NMO 2/3 (66.7%)] but was absent in HSE, AD and non-neurologic controls. Inflammation was greater in the demyelinating diseases compared to non-neurologic controls. Olfactory bulb/tract axonal loss was most severe in MS where it correlated significantly with the extent of demyelination (r = 0.610, P = 0.009) and parenchymal inflammation (r = 0.681, P = 0.003). The extent of olfactory bulb/tract demyelination correlated with that found in the adjacent inferior frontal cortex but not hippocampus. We provide unequivocal evidence that olfactory bulb/tract demyelination is frequent, can occur early and is highly inflammatory, and is specific to demyelinating disease.

Original publication




Journal article


Brain Pathol

Publication Date





543 - 551


demyelinating disease, multiple sclerosis, neuroinflammation, olfaction, pathology, Adolescent, Adult, Aged, Aged, 80 and over, Axons, Cerebral Cortex, Child, Demyelinating Diseases, Encephalitis, Female, Humans, Male, Middle Aged, Myelin Sheath, Olfactory Bulb, Young Adult