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Eur Ann Otorhinolaryngol Head Neck Dis. 2011 Sep;128(4):184-90. doi: 10.1016/j.anorl.2010.11.008. Epub 2011 Mar 5.

Vomeronasal organ and human pheromones.

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CNRS, INRA, FRE 3295, Neurobiologie Sensorielle, domaine de Vilvert, b√Ętiment 325, 78350 Jouy-en-Josas, France.


For many organisms, pheromonal communication is of particular importance in managing various aspects of reproduction. In tetrapods, the vomeronasal (Jacobson's) organ specializes in detecting pheromones in biological substrates of congeners. This information triggers behavioral changes associated, in the case of certain pheromones, with neuroendocrine correlates. In human embryos, the organ develops and the nerve fibers constitute a substrate for the migration of GnRH-secreting cells from the olfactory placode toward the hypothalamus. After this essential step for subsequent secretion of sex hormones by the anterior hypophysis, the organ regresses and the neural connections disappear. The vomeronasal cavities can still be observed by endoscopy in some adults, but they lack sensory neurons and nerve fibers. The genes which code for vomeronasal receptor proteins and the specific ionic channels involved in the transduction process are mutated and nonfunctional in humans. In addition, no accessory olfactory bulbs, which receive information from the vomeronasal receptor cells, are found. The vomeronasal sensory function is thus nonoperational in humans. Nevertheless, several steroids are considered to be putative human pheromones; some activate the anterior hypothalamus, but the effects observed are not comparable to those in other mammals. The signaling process (by neuronal detection and transmission to the brain or by systemic effect) remains to be clearly elucidated.

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