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Horm Behav. 2004 Sep;46(3):272-83.

Olfactory-mediated parasite recognition and avoidance: linking genes to behavior.

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Department of Psychology, Social Science Center, University of Western Ontario, London, ON, Canada N6A 5C2.


A major cost of social behavior is the increased risk of exposure to parasites and infection. Animals utilize social information, including chemical signals, to recognize and avoid conspecifics infected with either endoparasites or ectoparasites. Here, we briefly discuss the relations among odors, parasite recognition, and avoidance, and consider some of the associated hormonal, neural, and genomic mechanisms. In rodents, odor cues mediate sexual and competitive interactions and are of major importance in individual recognition and mate detection and choice. Female mice distinguish between infected and uninfected males by urinary odors, displaying aversive response to, and avoidance of, the odors of infected individuals. This reduces both the likelihood of the transmission of parasites to themselves and allows females to select for parasite-free males. This set of olfactory and mate choice responses can be further modulated by social factors such as previous experience and exposure to infected males and the mate choices of other females. Male mice, who also face the threat of infection, similarly distinguish and avoid parasitized individuals by odor, thus reducing their likelihood of infection. This recognition and avoidance of the odors of infected individuals involves genes for the neuropeptide, oxytocin (OT), and estrogenic mechanisms. Mice with deletions of the oxytocin gene [OT knockout mice (OTKO)] and mice whose genes for estrogen receptor (ER)-alpha or ER-beta have been disrupted [ER knockout mice (ERKO), alpha-ERKO and beta-ERKO] are specifically impaired in their recognition of, aversion to, and memory of the odors of infected individuals. These findings reveal some of the genes involved in the mediation of social recognition in the ecologically relevant context of parasite recognition and avoidance.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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