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The effects of zinc on the olfactory neuroepithelium and olfactory bulbs of the Sprague-Dawley rat after oral administration of zinc-gluconate trihydrate

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Background: The most frequent causes of upper respiratory infections are human rhinoviruses. The nasopharyngeal area, which includes the respiratory epithelium, mucosa, and the olfactory neuroepithelium (ONe), is a first-line of defense against airborne viruses and allergens, some of which manage to penetrate the nasal mucosa and invade the tissues of the nasal respiratory epithelium. Biochemical evidence from several studies suggests that zinc is an effective cold treatment and that over-the-counter (OTC) zinc-gluconate compounds may provide the high pharmacologic doses of zinc needed to act as an effective means of treating and reducing the duration and severity of symptoms of the common cold.

Methods: A series of male Sprague-Dawley rats were fed an oral preparation of zinc-gluconate trihydrate or received the equivalent through drinking water to investigate the potential cytotoxic and/or neurotoxic insult to the olfactory receptor cells and other tissue in the ONe and afferent neuronal pathways.

Results: Coronal sections of the rat ONe and corresponding olfactory bulbs showed consistent cellular and tissue damage of increasing severity that correlated with the duration of treatment with the zinc compound when compared with the control group animals.

Conclusion: The results of this analysis indicate that the repeated oral administration of such zinc-containing compounds have neurotoxic effects on the ONe and to the mitral cells in the olfactory bulbs of treated rats. These findings point toward the need for increased investigation into the potential deleterious effects of zinc-containing compounds to humans as well.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: May 1, 2006

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