Olfactory ensheathing cells: The primary innate immunocytes in the olfactory pathway to engulf apoptotic olfactory nerve debris

Zhida Su, Jingjing Chen, Yang Qiu, Yimin Yuan, Feng Zhu, Yanling Zhu, Xiujie Liu, Yingyan Pu, Cheng He

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

74 Scopus citations


The olfactory system is an unusual tissue in which olfactory receptor neurons (ORNs) are continuously replaced throughout the life of mammals. Clearance of the apoptotic ORNs corpses is a fundamental process serving important functions in the regulation of olfactory nerve turnover and regeneration. However, little is known about the underlying mechanisms. Olfactory ensheathing cells (OECs) are a unique type of glial cells that wrap olfactory axons and support their continual regeneration from the olfactory epithelium to the bulb. In the present study, OECs were identified to exist in two different states, resting and reactive, in which resting OECs could be activated by LPS stimulation and functioned as phagocytes for cleaning apoptotic ORNs corpses. Confocal analysis revealed that dead ORNs debris were engulfed by OECs and co-localized with lysosome associated membrane protein 1. Moreover, phosphatidylserine (PS) receptor was identified to express on OECs, which allowed OECs to recognize apoptotic ORNs by binding to PS. Importantly, engulfment of olfactory nerve debris by OECs was found in olfactory mucosa under normal turnover and was significantly increased in the animal model of olfactory bulbectomy, while little phagocytosis by Iba-1-positive microglia/macrophages was observed. Together, these results implicate OEC as a primary innate immunocyte in the olfactory pathway, and suggest a cellular and molecular mechanism by which ORNs corpses are removed during olfactory nerve turnover and regeneration.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)490-503
Number of pages14
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2013


  • Olfactory ensheathing cell
  • Olfactory receptor neuron
  • Phagocytosis
  • Phosphatidylserine

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


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