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J Neurosci. 1999 Oct 15;19(20):RC32.

Functional dichotomy within the vomeronasal system: distinct zones of neuronal activity in the accessory olfactory bulb correlate with sex-specific behaviors.

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  • 1University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, Department of Physiology, Dallas, Texas 75235-9040, USA.


Chemosensory neurons in the vomeronasal organ (VNO) detect pheromones that elicit social and reproductive behaviors in most terrestrial vertebrates. Vomeronasal receptor neurons are chemoarchitecturally divided into two populations based on their position in the VNO, the type of G-protein subunit expressed, the family of putative pheromone receptor expressed, and termination site of their axons in the accessory olfactory bulb (AOB). To investigate the functional implications of these two segregated VNO-AOB pathways, we stimulated mice with pheromonal cues associated with different behavioral contexts and examined cellular activation patterns in the AOB. Exposure of ICR male mice to BALB/c males resulted in aggressive behavior, accompanied by a VNO-dependent increase in c-fos immunoreactivity in a cluster of cells located almost exclusively in the caudal AOB in both strains. This caudal cluster of activated cells did not appear to require the overt display of aggressive behavior because it was present in both the dominant and submissive males and could be evoked when the stimulus animal was anesthetized. In contrast, exposure of an ICR male to an ICR female in diestrus resulted in activation of cells located predominantly in the rostral AOB. Our findings indicate that male-to-male interactions involving interstrain recognition activate a separate population of vomeronasal receptor neurons than chemosensory cues detected in a sexual context. The results suggest that the dichotomy in the peripheral vomeronasal system serves to separate pheromones based on the behaviors they drive. As such, the results provide a bioassay for identifying pheromone molecules.

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