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Hum Brain Mapp. 2011 Mar;32(3):450-60. doi: 10.1002/hbm.21035.

The vomeronasal organ is not involved in the perception of endogenous odors.

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  • 1Centre de Recherche en Neuropsychologie et Cognition, Université de Montréal, Montreal, Canada.


Chemosensory-based communication is a vital signaling tool in most species, and evidence has recently emerged in support of the notion that humans also use social chemosignals (so-called pheromones) to communicate. An ongoing controversy does exist, however, concerning the receptor organ through which these chemicals are processed. There is a widespread belief that the vomeronasal organ (VNO) is responsible for processing social chemosignals in humans. Here we demonstrate that functional occlusion of the VNO does not change the percept of, sensitivity toward, or functional neuronal processing of a putative human pheromone. Perithreshold and suprathreshold perception of the endogenous chemical androstadienone (AND) were compared, as were positron emission tomography brain activations evoked by AND when the VNO was either occluded or left open. In addition, we compared sensitivity to AND in subjects with an identifiable VNO to those in whom no VNO could be detected. Thus we could examine the effects of the VNO at several different levels of processing. Occlusion or absence of the VNO did not affect either the perceptual measurements or the functional processing of the putative human pheromone, AND. These results provide strong evidence that the human VNO has no obvious function. Pheromonal communication in humans may be conveyed via the main olfactory system.

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