Animals use a variety of odors--called pheromones--to communicate details about social and reproductive states among members of a species. In mammals, pheromones are detected in the epithelium of the nose by the sensory terminals of neurons in the vomeronasal organ. Now, by identifying a receptor molecule for a specific pheromone, a study in the December issue of Nature Neuroscience makes the first step at describing the molecular machinery involved in transducing pheromone signals to the brain.
The receptor described is a member of a previously identified family of genes, called V1r, that were known from deletion studies to mediate sexual and other social behaviors in mice (and related receptors may be expressed in humans as well). However, because V1r genes are also involved in the development of the vomeronasal organ, it was not certain whether these genes were indeed coding for the pheromone receptors themselves. Using genetic marking techniques combined with electrophysiology and optical imaging, researchers from the University of Geneva and University of Lausanne in Switzerland now specifically record activity from single vomeronasal sensory neurons expressing a known V1r receptor. These neurons showed a distinct response to the application of a particular molecule--a known pheromone present in mouse urine--and not to other molecules. The identification of a specific receptor and agonist should allow for a better understanding of how signals are processed and coded in the vomeronasal organ.
Zoology and Animal Biology
University of Geneva, Switzerland
Tel: +41 22 70 25 217
Marie Christine Broillet
Institute of Pharmacology and Toxicology
University of Lausanne, Switzerland
Tel: +41 21 692 53 70
Also available online.
(C) Nature Neuroscience press release.
Message posted by: Trevor M. D'Souza