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J Exp Biol. 2008 Nov;211(Pt 22):3529-35. doi: 10.1242/jeb.018739.

Single unit responses to skin odorants from conspecifics and heterospecifics in the olfactory bulb of crucian carp Carassius carassius.

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  • 1Department of Molecular Biosciences, Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences, University of Oslo, PO Box 1041, N-0316 Oslo, Norway.


Injured fish skin leaks alarm substances that induce the fright reaction upon olfactory detection. The skin also contains a multitude of other odorants traditionally related to other behaviors, but to what extent they are detected upon injury is unknown. We have performed single unit recordings in the olfactory bulb (OB) of crucian carp while exposing the olfactory epithelium to skin extracts from conspecifics and three other species of the carp family, common carp, tench and bream. The aims were to investigate whether neural activity may be induced by different types of skin odorants and how well the odorants from injured conspecifics are distinguished from other species. The OB of crucian carp shows a clear chemotopy as units located in different regions respond to either food-related odorants, to pheromones or to alarm odorants respectively. Units in all regions responded to skin extracts, which indicate the detection of odorants usually involved in reproduction and feeding, in addition to the alarm substances. Among OB units responding to only one of the skin extracts, most were sensitive to conspecific skin extract. Furthermore, pair-wise comparisons showed that the discrimination between conspecific skin extract and skin extract from another species was in general better than the discrimination between skin extracts from two heterospecifics. The findings suggest that identification of injured fishes may be based on different groups of odorants and that the crucian carp olfactory system discriminates well between odorants from conspecifics and those from other fish species.

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