BACKGROUND Presbyosmia, or aging-related olfactory loss, occurs in a majority of humans over age 65 years, yet remains poorly understood, with no specific treatment options. The olfactory epithelium (OE) is the peripheral organ for olfaction and is subject to acquired damage, suggesting a likely site of pathology in aging. Adult stem cells reconstitute the neuroepithelium in response to cell loss under normal conditions. In aged OE, patches of respiratory-like metaplasia have been observed histologically, consistent with a failure in normal neuroepithelial homeostasis.Methods Accordingly, we have focused on identifying cellular and molecular changes in presbyosmic OE. The study combined psychophysical testing with olfactory mucosa biopsy analysis, single-cell RNA-Sequencing (scRNA-Seq), and culture studies.Results We identified evidence for inflammation-associated changes in the OE stem cells of presbyosmic patients. The presbyosmic basal stem cells exhibited increased expression of genes involved in response to cytokines or stress or the regulation of proliferation and differentiation. Using a culture model, we found that cytokine exposure drove increased TP63, a transcription factor acting to prevent OE stem cell differentiation.Conclusions Our data suggest aging-related inflammatory changes in OE stem cells may contribute to presbyosmia via the disruption of normal epithelial homeostasis. OE stem cells may represent a therapeutic target for restoration of olfaction.Funding NIH grants DC018371, NS121067, DC016224; Office of Physician-Scientist Development, Burroughs-Wellcome Fund Research Fellowship for Medical Students Award, Duke University School of Medicine.
Allison D. Oliva, Rupali Gupta, Khalil Issa, Ralph Abi Hachem, David W. Jang, Sebastian A. Wellford, E. Ashley Moseman, Hiroaki Matsunami, Bradley J. Goldstein