The mucus at the surface of the olfactory mucosa constitutes the milieu in which perireceptor events associated with olfactory transduction occur. In this review, the ultrastructure of olfactory mucus and of the secretory cells that synthesize and secrete olfactory mucus in the vertebrate olfactory mucosa is described. Bowman's glands are present in the olfactory mucosa of all vertebrates except fish. They consist of acini, which may contain mucous or serous cells or both, and ducts that traverse the olfactory epithelium to deliver secretions to the epithelial surface. Sustentacular cells are present in the olfactory epithelium of all vertebrates. In fish, amphibia, reptiles, and birds, they are secretory; in mammals, they generally are considered to be “nonsecretory,” although they may participate in the regulation of the mucous composition through micropinocytotic secretion and uptake. Goblet cells occur in the olfactory epithelium of fish and secrete a mucous product.
Secretion from Bowman's glands and vasomotor activity in the olfactory mucosa are regulated by neural elements extrinsic to the primary olfactory neurons. Nerve fibers described in early anatomical studies and characterized by immunohistochemical studies contain a variety of neuroactive peptides and have several targets within the olfactory mucosa. Ultrastructural studies of nerve terminals in the olfactory mucosa have demonstrated the presence of adrenergic, cholinergic and peptidergic input to glands, blood vessels, and melanocytes in the lamina propria and of peptidergic terminals in the olfactory epithelium. The neural origins of the extrinsic nerve fibers and terminals are the trigeminal, terminal, and autonomic systems. © 1992 Wiley-Liss, Inc.