The olfactory bulb exhibits architecture unique amongst laminar cortices, lacking molecular and subplate zones and having superficial synaptic glomeruli. Its ontogenesis also is unique because neuroblasts do not migrate radially but stream in from the rostral telencephalon; an ependymal-lined olfactory ventricle is transitory. The olfactory is the only sensory system to not project to the thalamus but incorporates a thalamic equivalent. It is a repository of progenitor cells in the mature brain. The aim was to define olfactory bulb development in the human foetus: synaptogenesis and cellular maturation.
Immunoreactivity in paraffin sections of synaptophysin, NeuN, calretinin, vimentin and nestin was examined at autopsy in olfactory bulb in 20 foetuses, 9-40wks gestation. Synaptophysin reactivity was seen around the somata of mitral and tufted neurons at 9wks, synaptic glomeruli at 13wks. The granule cell layer in the core exhibited NeuN-reactive nuclei in cells of the outer half at 20wks; 60% of granular neurons reacted by term. Synaptophysin reactivity in the granular layer initiates at 15wk. GABAergic calretinin-reactive neurons and neurites and synaptic glomeruli appeared at 13wks. Nestin- and vimentin-reactive bipolar progenitor cells were shown at all gestational ages, mainly in the granular layer, the ratio to other cells remaining constant. Synapses form in the small accessory olfactory bulb of the nervus terminalis earlier than in the main bulb. Development of synaptic vesicles in the human fetal olfactory bulb is precise both spatially and temporally, but not yet fully mature at term.
In brain malformations and congenital metabolic and genetic diseases, the olfactory bulb may be affected and provide additional neuropathological data. Therapeutic autologous transplantation of olfactory progenitor cells focus renewed interest in the olfactory bulb.