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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. Sep 1981; 78(9): 5817–5820.
PMCID: PMC348873

Distinctive urinary odors governed by the major histocompatibility locus of the mouse.


It has been shown that major histocompatibility complex (MHC) types affect the mating choices of mice and that mice can be trained to distinguish arms of a Y maze scented by odors from MHC-congeneic mice. It is now shown that sensory discrimination of MHC types by trained mice in the Y maze is equally effective with urine as the source of odors. Trained mice, male and female, successfully distinguished between urines of MHC-dissimilar F2 segregants of an MHC-congeneic cross but not between urines of MHC-identical F2 segregants. In a control study with a transfer of training procedure, in which reward was withheld to eliminate any basis for new learning, the trained mice successfully distinguished between urines from panels of MHC-congeneic inbred and F2 segregant congeneic mice that had not previously been used as urine donors. Thus urine, which is a source of chemosensory signals in many species, is also a potent source of the MHC-determined odors that distinguish individual mice.

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  • Yamazaki K, Boyse EA, Miké V, Thaler HT, Mathieson BJ, Abbott J, Boyse J, Zayas ZA, Thomas L. Control of mating preferences in mice by genes in the major histocompatibility complex. J Exp Med. 1976 Nov 2;144(5):1324–1335. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
  • Yamazaki K, Yamaguchi M, Baranoski L, Bard J, Boyse EA, Thomas L. Recognition among mice. Evidence from the use of a Y-maze differentially scented by congenic mice of different major histocompatibility types. J Exp Med. 1979 Oct 1;150(4):755–760. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
  • Fellows BJ. Chance stimulus sequences for discrimination tasks. Psychol Bull. 1967 Feb;67(2):87–92. [PubMed]

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