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Eur J Neurosci. 2009 Feb;29(3):624-34. doi: 10.1111/j.1460-9568.2009.06638.x. Epub 2009 Jan 28.

A direct main olfactory bulb projection to the 'vomeronasal' amygdala in female mice selectively responds to volatile pheromones from males.

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Department of Biology, Boston University, Boston, MA 02215, USA.


The main olfactory system, like the accessory olfactory system, responds to pheromones involved in social communication. Whereas pheromones detected by the accessory system are transmitted to the hypothalamus via the medial ('vomeronasal') amygdala, the pathway by which pheromones are detected and transmitted by the main system is not well understood. We examined in female mice whether a direct projection from mitral/tufted (M/T) cells in the main olfactory bulb (MOB) to the medial amygdala exists, and whether medial amygdala-projecting M/T cells are activated by volatile urinary odors from conspecifics or a predator (cat). Simultaneous anterograde tracing using Phaseolus vulgaris leucoagglutinin and Fluoro-Ruby placed in the MOB and accessory olfactory bulb (AOB), respectively, revealed that axons of MOB M/T cells projected to superficial laminae of layer Ia in anterior and posterodorsal subdivisions of the medial amygdala, whereas projection neurons from the AOB sent axons to non-overlapping, deeper layer Ia laminae of the same subdivisions. Placement of the retrograde tracer cholera toxin B into the medial amygdala labeled M/T cells that were concentrated in the ventral MOB. Urinary volatiles from male mice, but not from female conspecifics or cat, induced Fos in medial amygdala-projecting MOB M/T cells of female subjects, suggesting that information about male odors is transmitted directly from the MOB to the 'vomeronasal' amygdala. The presence of a direct MOB-to-medial amygdala pathway in mice and other mammals could enable volatile, opposite-sex pheromones to gain privileged access to diencephalic structures that control mate recognition and reproduction.

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