• regeneration;
  • adult;
  • repair;
  • transplantation;
  • ultrastructure;
  • EM


The ensheathing cells of the olfactory nerves are arranged end-to-end to form a continuous channel enclosing the olfactory axons from their origin in the olfactory mucosa to their termination in the olfactory bulb. On their outer surface, the olfactory ensheathing cell channels have a basal lamina and an outer encirclement of olfactory nerve fibroblasts. We present an anatomical model of the ensheathing arrangements for the entire transit of the olfactory axons from the horizontal basal cells of the mucosa through the nerves to the superficial astrocytes of the bulb. We used intracranial section of the olfactory nerves to induce a rapid retrograde loss of olfactory neurons and degeneration of their axons, followed by replacement of the neurons from stem cells in the mucosa and growth of the newly formed axons along the olfactory nerves. The olfactory ensheathing cells survive and play a vital role in this process. Unlike Schwann cells in damaged peripheral nerve, the olfactory ensheathing cells neither divide nor migrate. They are actively phagocytic for removal of the degenerating axons, and provide continuous stable open channels along which adventitious cells such as erythrocytes and macrophages can travel, and along which the newly formed axons can regenerate. We suggest that the persistence of these open channels is an important element in the effectiveness of the regeneration. These properties, which the olfactory ensheathing cells exert in collaboration with olfactory nerve fibroblasts, may also be involved in the reparative effects of these cells when transplanted into lesions of the spinal cord. © 2005 Wiley-Liss, Inc.