Pheromonal communication in vertebrates


Recent insights have revolutionized our understanding of the importance of chemical signals in influencing vertebrate behaviour. Previously unknown families of pheromonal signals have been identified that are expanding the traditional definition of a pheromone. Although previously regarded as functioning independently, the main olfactory and vomeronasal systems have been found to have considerable overlap in terms of the chemosignals they detect and the effects that they mediate. Studies using gene-targeted mice have revealed an unexpected diversity of chemosensory systems and their underlying cellular and molecular mechanisms. Future developments could show how the functions of the different chemosensory systems are integrated to regulate innate and learned behavioural and physiological responses to pheromones.

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Figure 1: The mouse olfactory system.
Figure 2: Both the MOE and VNO detect pheromonal ligands at low concentrations.
Figure 3: The Bruce effect, one of the best-known examples of olfactory imprinting in adult vertebrates.
Figure 4: The medial amygdala is an important hub that controls social behaviour.


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In memory of L. C. Katz. This review and our research were supported by grants from the NIH/NIDCD (F.Z.) and the MRC/BBSRC (P.A.B.). Apologies to our colleagues whose work we could not cite owing to space limitations.

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Correspondence to Peter A. Brennan or Frank Zufall.

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Brennan, P., Zufall, F. Pheromonal communication in vertebrates. Nature 444, 308–315 (2006).

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