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J Exp Biol. 2014 Dec 1;217(Pt 23):4203-12. doi: 10.1242/jeb.111518. Epub 2014 Oct 16.

Olfactory sensitivity to steroid glucuronates in Mozambique tilapia suggests two distinct and specific receptors for pheromone detection.

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Centre of Marine Sciences (CCMAR), Universidade do Algarve, Campus de Gambelas, 8005-139 Faro, Portugal Departamento de Biologia, Universidade de Évora, Apartado 94, 7002-554 Évora, Portugal.
Centre of Marine Sciences (CCMAR), Universidade do Algarve, Campus de Gambelas, 8005-139 Faro, Portugal.
Centre of Marine Sciences (CCMAR), Universidade do Algarve, Campus de Gambelas, 8005-139 Faro, Portugal


Cichlids offer an exciting opportunity to understand vertebrate speciation; chemical communication could be one of the drivers of African cichlid radiation. Chemical signals mediate key aspects in the lives of vertebrates and often are species specific. Dominant male Mozambique tilapia [Oreochromis mossambicus (Peters 1852)] release a sex pheromone, 5β-pregnan-3α,17α,20β-triol 3-glucuronate and its 20α-epimer, via their urine. The objective of this study was to assess the sensitivity, specificity and versatility of the olfactory system of O. mossambicus to other steroids and their conjugates using the electro-olfactogram. Oreochromis mossambicus was sensitive to several 3-glucuronidated steroids, but did not respond to prostaglandins, unconjugated steroids or 17- or 20-conjugated steroids. Stimulation of the olfactory epithelium with increasing concentrations (1 pmol l(-1) to 10 μmol l(-1)) of 5β-pregnan-3α,17α,20β-triol 3-glucuronate, 5β-pregnan-3α,17α,20α-triol 3-glucuronate, 3α,17α-dihydroxy-5β-pregnan-20-one 3-glucuronate, etiocholanolone 3α-glucuronate and 17β-estradiol 3-glucuronate produced characteristic sigmoidal concentration-response curves. However, tilapia were most sensitive to 17β-estradiol-3-glucuronate, which also had the lowest apparent EC50 and maximal response amplitude. Cross-adaptation and binary mixture experiments suggested that 5β,3α-reduced pregnan- and androstan-3-glucuronates share (a) common olfactory receptor(s), whereas 17β-estradiol 3-glucuronate is detected via (a) distinct olfactory receptor(s). In conclusion, the Mozambique tilapia has evolved high olfactory sensitivity and specificity to 3-glucuronidated steroids through two distinct olfactory receptor types; one detecting a male sex pheromone and a second detecting 17β-estradiol 3-glucuronate, a putative female-derived signal. However, O. mossambicus differs markedly in its olfactory perception from the more recently derived East African cichlid Astatotilapia burtoni, suggesting that chemical communication could, indeed, be involved in speciation.


Chemical communication; Cichlid; Olfaction; Pheromone; Receptor; Steroid

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