Biologists have discovered a second set of olfactory receptors in the mouse nose, including ones that may detect pheromones and might therefore aid in the mating game. The genes that encode these receptors are also found in fish and humans, raising the tantalizing prospect that we may be on the brink of discovering a human pheromone receptor.
The receptors, which sit on the surface of unique subsets of cells in the nasal lining, are called trace amine-associated receptors (TAARs) and are distinct from the range of receptor molecules that sense odours. The discovery is unveiled by Stephen Liberles and Linda Buck in a study published online by Nature.
At least three different TAARs recognize separate compounds found in mouse urine, which suggests that they may have a role in detecting subtle chemical messages between individuals. One of the compounds is linked to stress, whereas the other two are generally more abundant in male than in female urine - and one of them is thought by biologists to be a mating signal.
Linda Buck (Howard Hughes Medical Institute - Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Seattle, WA, USA)
(C) Nature press release.
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