Journal of Mammalian Evolution

, Volume 12, Issue 3–4, pp 303–336 | Cite as

Organization of the Olfactory and Respiratory Skeleton in the Nose of the Gray Short-Tailed Opossum Monodelphis domestica

  • Timothy B. Rowe
  • Thomas P. Eiting
  • Thomas E. Macrini
  • Richard A. Ketcham
Comparative Morphology and Early Diversification of Mammals


The internal nasal skeleton in Monodelphis domestica, the gray short-tailed opossum, primarily supports olfactory and respiratory epithelia, the vomeronasal organ, and the nasal gland. This scaffold is built by the median mesethmoid, and the paired vomer and ethmoid bones. The mesethmoid ossifies within the nasal septum cartilage. The bilateral ethmoid segregates respiratory and olfactory regions, and its geometry offers insight into the functional, developmental, and genomic organization of the nose. It forms through partial coalescence of separate elements known as turbinals, which in Monodelphis comprise the maxilloturbinal, nasoturbinal, five endoturbinals, and two ectoturbinals. Geometry of the ethmoid increases respiratory mucosal surface area by a factor of six and olfactory mucosal surface by nearly an order of magnitude. Respiratory epithelium warms and humidifies inspired air, recovers moisture as air is exhaled, and may help mediate brain temperature. In contrast, the olfactory skeleton functions as a series of small funnels that support growth of new olfactory neurons throughout life. Olfactory mucosa lines the mouth of each funnel, forming blind olfactory recesses known as the ethmoid cells, and neuronal axons are funneled from the epithelium through tiny olfactory foramina in the cribriform plate, into close proximity with target glomeruli in the olfactory bulb of the brain where each axon makes its first synapse. The skeleton may thus mediate topological correspondence between odorant receptor areas in the nose with particular glomeruli in the olfactory bulb, enabling growth throughout life of new olfactory neurons and proper targeting by their axons. The geometric arrangement of odorant receptors suggests that a measure of volatility may be a component in the peripheral olfactory code, and that corresponding glomeruli may function in temporal signal processing. Supporting visualizations for this study are available online at

Key Words

Vomeronasal organ Mesethmoid Ethmoid Turbinals Vomer Computed tomography 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science + Business Media, Inc. 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Timothy B. Rowe
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
  • Thomas P. Eiting
    • 1
  • Thomas E. Macrini
    • 1
  • Richard A. Ketcham
    • 1
  1. 1.Jackson School of GeosciencesThe University of Texas at AustinAustinUSA
  2. 2.Texas Memorial MuseumThe University of Texas at AustinAustinUSA
  3. 3.Geol. Science DepartmentThe University of Texas at AustinAustinUSA

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