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Genes Brain Behav. 2019 Oct 21:e12618. doi: 10.1111/gbb.12618. [Epub ahead of print]

Sex differences in main olfactory system pathways involved in psychosexual function.

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Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, Boston University, Boston, Massachusetts.
Department of Biology, Boston University, Boston, Massachusetts.


We summarize literature from animal and human studies assessing sex differences in the ability of the main olfactory system to detect and process sex-specific olfactory signals ("pheromones") that control the expression of psychosexual functions in males and females. A case is made in non primate mammals for an obligatory role of pheromonal signaling via the main olfactory system (in addition to the vomeronasal-accessory olfactory system) in mate recognition and sexual arousal, with male-specific as well as female-specific pheromones subserving these functions in the opposite sex. Although the case for an obligatory role of pheromones in mate recognition and mating among old world primates, including humans, is weaker, we review the current literature assessing the role of putative human pheromones (eg, AND, EST, "copulin"), detected by the main olfactory system, in promoting mate choice and mating in men and women. Based on animal studies, we hypothesize that sexually dimorphic effects of putative human pheromones are mediated via main olfactory inputs to the medial amygdala which, in turn, transmits olfactory information to sites in the hypothalamus that regulate reproduction.


accessory olfactory system; chemosignal; human; main olfactory bulb; main olfactory epithelium; main olfactory system; medial amygdala; mouse; pheromone; sex difference; sexual behavior


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