Olfactory Development, Part 1: Function, From Fetal Perception to Adult Wine-Tasting

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Abstract

Discrimination of odorous molecules in amniotic fluid occur after 30 weeks’ gestation; fetuses exhibit differential responses to maternal diet. Olfactory reflexes enable reliable neonatal testing. Olfactory bulbs can be demonstrated reliably by MRI after 30 weeks’ gestation, and their hypoplasia or aplasia also documented by late prenatal and postnatal MRI. Olfactory axons project from nasal epithelium to telencephalon before olfactory bulbs form. Fetal olfactory maturation remains incomplete at term for neuronal differentiation, synaptogenesis, myelination, and persistence of the transitory fetal ventricular recess. Immaturity does not signify nonfunction. Olfaction is the only sensory system without thalamic projection because of its own intrinsic thalamic equivalent. Diverse malformations of the olfactory bulb can be diagnosed by clinical examination, imaging, and neuropathology. Some epileptic auras might be primarily generated in the olfactory bulb. Cranial nerve 1 should be tested in all neonates and especially in patients with brain malformations, endocrinopathies, chromosomopathies, and genetic/metabolic diseases.

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