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The effect of coronaviruses on olfaction: systematic review

Volume: 59 - Issue: 3

First page: 226 - Last page: 235

M. Zugaj - N.S. van Ditzhuijzen - K. Golebski - W.J. Fokkens

BACKGROUND: Unlike other respiratory viruses, SARS-CoV-2 causes anosmia without sinonasal inflammation. Here we systematically review the effects of the 7 known human coronaviruses on olfaction to determine if SARS-CoV-2 distinctly affects the olfactory system.
METHOD: PubMed, EMBASE, Web of Science, bioRxiv, medRxiv and DOAJ were searched for studies describing pathophysiological, immunohistochemical, cytological and clinical data.
RESULTS: 49 studies were included. Common cold coronaviruses lead to sinonasal inflammation which can cause transient and chronic loss of smell. MERS-CoV entry receptors were not found in the nasal mucosa and it did not impair olfaction. SARS-CoV-1 had low affinity for its receptor ACE2, limiting olfactory effects. Anosmia is frequent in SARS-CoV-2 infections. SARS-CoV-2’s entry factors ACE2 and TMPRSS2 are expressed in the nasal respiratory epithelium and olfactory supporting cells. SARS-CoV-2 appeared to target the olfactory cleft while diffuse nasal inflammation was not observed. Damage of the olfactory epithelium was observed in animal models. Alternative receptors such as furin and neuropilin-1 and the similarity of viral proteins to odourant receptors could amplify olfactory impairment in SARS-CoV-2 infection.
CONCLUSIONS: The pathophysiology of anosmia in SARS-CoV-2 infection is distinct from other coronaviruses due to preferentially targeting olfactory supporting cells. However, SARS-CoV-2 does not cause sinonasal inflammation in spite of preferred entry factor expression in the nasal respiratory epithelium. This raises doubts about the attention given to ACE2. Alternative receptors, odourant receptor mimicry and other as yet unknown mechanisms may be crucial in the pathogenesis of anosmia in SARS-CoV-2 infection. Further studies are warranted to investigate infection mechanisms beyond ACE2.

Rhinology 59-3: 226-235, 2021

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