Sensory cells that specialize in transducing olfactory and gustatory stimuli are renewed throughout life and can regenerate after injury unlike their counterparts in the mammalian retina and auditory epithelium. This uncommon capacity for regeneration offers an opportunity to understand mechanisms that promote the recovery of sensory function after taste and smell loss. Immune responses appear to influence degeneration and later regeneration of olfactory sensory neurons and taste receptor cells. Here we review surgical, chemical, and inflammatory injury models and evidence that immune responses promote or deter chemosensory cell regeneration. Macrophage and neutrophil responses to chemosensory receptor injury have been the most widely studied without consensus on their net effects on regeneration. We discuss possible technical and biological reasons for the discrepancy, such as the difference between peripheral and central structures, and suggest directions for progress in understanding immune regulation of chemosensory regeneration. Our mechanistic understanding of immune-chemosensory cell interactions must be expanded before therapies can be developed for recovering the sensation of taste and smell after head injury from traumatic nerve damage and infection. Chemosensory loss leads to decreased quality of life, depression, nutritional challenges, and exposure to environmental dangers highlighting the need for further studies in this area.

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