The present study documents the morphological changes in the aging human olfactory bulb. Eight bulb pairs from white females between the ages of 25 and 102 years were used. The number of mitral cells in layers IV and III was determined for each bulb and corrected for spilt cell error. Counts were made on 10-μm thick Nissl-stained sections at 250-μm intervals. The mean number of mitral cells per olfactory bulb at age 25 was estimated from linear regression to be 50,935; at age 60, 32,718; and at age 95, 14,501. The average loss over the time interval studied was 520 mitral cells per year.
The volume of each bulb layer, except layer IV, was determined. The difference in the volume of each layer within individuals with age and the total volume with age was not significant (P < 0.11). The estimated mean bulb volume was found to be 50.02, 43.35, and 36.68 mm3 at ages 25, 60, and 95 years, respectively. The estimated reduction in bulb volume per year increase of age was 0.19 mm3. The ratio of mitral cells to bulb volume for layer III decreased by 19.4 units for every year increase in age. No significant difference was found between the left and the right bulbs in regard to the number of mitral cells and the bulb volume.
Histologically, the glomerular layer thickness as well as the mitral cell size and concentration per unit area decreased with age. The intrabulbar anterior olfactory nucleus was discontinuous, highly variable in size, and presumably variable even in neuronal numbers.