Eric H. Holbrook, M.D.

Harvard Medical School

Associate Professor of Otolaryngology

Massachusetts Eye and Ear

Director, Division of Rhinology

Research Summary

Research Area Affiliations

Research Summary

Dr. Holbrook’s research looks at ways to understand the ability of the olfactory epithelium to regenerate after injury. His long-term goal is to integrate what is learned in the laboratory with his clinical understanding of olfactory loss to either prevent further progression or reverse the process of smell loss in humans. Previous research projects supported the finding of odorant evoked neuronal activity in enhancement of survival and axonal targeting of receptor neurons after olfactory epithelial lesions in mice. This suggests a possible role for odorant therapy in treatment of human olfactory disorders. A clinical study is being developed to test this therapy. 

Further research has focused on the characterization of the olfactory mucosa in humans and a comparison with staining and molecular expression patterns identified in rodents. A description of reproducible staining patterns in various regenerative states can help propose mechanisms of pathology in human olfactory disorders that show comparable patterns in biopsy specimens. Dr. Holbrook has demonstrated that mouse and human epithelium are remarkably similar, and the human mucosa appears to retain regenerative capacity even in extreme ages. The olfactory area seems to decrease with age, but to a lesser degree than we anticipated. 

Given the findings in human autopsy material, potentially the problems of smell loss related to aging may be a function of abnormalities with the bulb or brain instead of the epithelium. Abnormalities of central areas may also occur with other forms of human olfactory loss as a primary source or as a secondary outcome to long-term denervation. A permanent alteration of central areas may make efforts at repairing epithelial disorders ineffective for treating smell loss. To study the effects of long-term olfactory neuronal loss on both the epithelium and central areas we have developed a novel mouse model of an inducible and reversible lesion. The findings mirror some examples we see in human olfactory tissue.

In addition to research on the sense of smell, multiple clinical projects relating to outcomes in treatment of sinus disease and the mechanisms of chronic sinusitis are currently ongoing. Many of these projects are in conjunction with other faculty at Mass. Eye and Ear, as well as specialists from Mass General in the allergy and neurosurgery fields.

Select Publications

An immunochemical, ultrastructural, and developmental characterization of the horizontal basal cells of rat olfactory epithelium. Holbrook EH, Mieleszko Szumowski KE, Schwob JE. J Comp Neurol 1995;363:129-46.

Abnormalities of axon growth in human olfactory mucosa. Holbrook EH, Leopold DA, Schwob JE. Laryngoscope 2005; 115:2144-54.

Immunohistochemical characterization of human olfactory tissue. Holbrook EH, Wu E, Curry WT, Lin DT, Schwob JE. Laryngoscope 2011;121:1687-1701.

Proteoglycan abnormalities in olfactory epithelium tissue from subjects diagnosed with schizophrenia. Pantazopoulos H, Boyer-Boiteau A, Holbrook EH, Jang W, Hahn C, Arnold SE, Berretta S. Schizophrenia Research. In Press

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1991: B.S. Biology, Cornell University
1996: M.D., M.S. SUNY Health Science Center

Postgraduate Training

1996 - 1997: Internship in General Surgery, SUNY Health Science Center
1997 - 2002: Residency in Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery, Medical College of Virginia
2002 - 2003: Fellowship in Rhinology/Sinus Surgery, University of Nebraska Medical Center

Professional Memberships (select)

2003 - present: American Academy of Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery
2003 - present: American Rhinologic Society
2003 - present: Association for Chemoreception Sciences
2004 - present: Massachusetts Society of Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery
2004 - present: Society of University Otolaryngologists–Head and Neck Surgeons
2006 - present: Massachusetts Medical Society
2006 - present: Society of Neuroscience
2011 - present: Triological Society

Honors (select)

1994 American Heart Association Medical Student Research Fellowship
1995 American Federation for Clinical Research Award
1996 Medical Student Research Program Certificate
1997 NIH, NRSA Postdoctoral Research Fellow
1998 Clinical Travel Fellowship, Association for Chemoreception Sciences
2000 Travel Award, Association for Research in Otolaryngology
2001 Resident Presentation Award, Annual Meeting of the Virginia Society of Otolaryngology--Head and Neck Surgery
2001 Outstanding Achievement in Research, Department of Otolaryngology, Medical College of Virginia
2002 Clinical Travel Fellowship, Association for Chemoreception Sciences
2011 Triological Society Fellow