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Curr Biol. 2010 Aug 24;20(16):1438-44. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2010.06.021. Epub 2010 Jul 15.

An olfactory subsystem that detects carbon disulfide and mediates food-related social learning.

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Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology, University of Maryland School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD 21201, USA.


Olfactory signals influence social interactions in a variety of species. In mammals, pheromones and other social cues can promote mating or aggression behaviors; can communicate information about social hierarchies, genetic identity and health status; and can contribute to associative learning. However, the molecular, cellular, and neural mechanisms underlying many olfactory-mediated social interactions remain poorly understood. Here, we report that a specialized olfactory subsystem that includes olfactory sensory neurons (OSNs) expressing the receptor guanylyl cyclase GC-D, the cyclic nucleotide-gated channel subunit CNGA3, and the carbonic anhydrase isoform CAII (GC-D(+) OSNs) is required for the acquisition of socially transmitted food preferences (STFPs) in mice. Using electrophysiological recordings from gene-targeted mice, we show that GC-D(+) OSNs are highly sensitive to the volatile semiochemical carbon disulfide (CS(2)), a component of rodent breath and a known social signal mediating the acquisition of STFPs. Olfactory responses to CS(2) are drastically reduced in mice lacking GC-D, CNGA3, or CAII. Disruption of this sensory transduction cascade also results in a failure to acquire STFPs from either live or surrogate demonstrator mice or to exhibit hippocampal correlates of STFP retrieval. Our findings indicate that GC-D(+) OSNs detect chemosignals that facilitate food-related social interactions.

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