Olfactory Loss and Regain: Lessons for Neuroplasticity

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Abstract

For the visual and auditory senses, an array of studies has reported on neuronal reorganization processes after sensory loss. In contrast to this, neuroplasticity has been investigated only scarcely after loss of the olfactory sense. The present review focuses on the current extent of literature on structural and functional neuroplasticity effects after loss, with a focus on magnetic resonance imaging–based studies. We also include findings on the regain of the olfactory sense, for example after successful olfactory training. Existing studies indicate that widespread structural changes beyond the level of the olfactory bulb occur in the brain after loss of the olfactory sense. Moreover, on a functional level, loss of olfactory input not only entails changes in olfaction-related brain regions but also in the trigeminal system. Existing evidence should be strengthened by future longitudinal studies, a more thorough investigation of the neuronal consequences of congenital anosmia, and the application of state-of-the-art neuroimaging methods, such as connectivity analyses and joint analyses of brain structure and function.

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