Sex pheromone levels are associated with paternity rate in brown rats

  • Yao-Hua Zhang
  • Lei Zhao
  • Xiao Guo
  • Jin-Hua Zhang
  • Jian-Xu ZhangEmail author
Original Article


In muroid rodents, urine-borne volatile compounds and major urinary proteins (MUPs) constitute the key male pheromones that shape the sexual attractiveness of males. Here, we aimed to examine whether male pheromone levels were related to sexual attractiveness and reproductive success in the North China subspecies of the brown rat (Rattus norvegicus humiliatus). According to the abundance of 2-heptanone (2H), the predominant male pheromone in male urine, male rats were first categorized into a high-2H group and a low-2H group. The levels of the whole volatile profile and non-volatile MUPs were found to be higher in the high-2H group than in the low-2H group. Moreover, the abundances of urinary volatile pheromones or pheromone candidates were positively correlated with the abundance of total MUPs. Two-way choice tests revealed that male urine from the high-2H group was more attractive to females than that from the low-2H group. Microsatellite loci analysis of paternal lineage revealed that the females had single-paternity offspring and that the high-2H group sired more offspring and had higher rates of paternity than did the low-2H group. These results suggest that urine-borne volatile pheromones alone or together with MUP pheromones can predict sexual attractiveness and reproductive success in male rats.

Significance statement

Sexual attractiveness can be quantified using volatile and MUP pheromones and their candidates in deposited urine. 2-Heptanone (a major pheromone) and other urine-borne volatile pheromones or their candidates and total MUPs showed the same difference patterns in males and predicted male sexual attractiveness. The abundances of volatile pheromones or their candidates and total MUPs were associated with reproductive success and paternity rate in males.


Pheromone MUP Sexual attractiveness Paternity 



We thank the editors and the two anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments and suggestions, which helped to improve this manuscript.

Author contribution

JXZ and YHZ conceived and designed the experiments. YHZ and JHZ performed the behavioral experiments and GC-MS analysis. LZ analyzed the paternity. LZ and XG performed the SDS-PAGE analysis. YHZ, LZ and JXZ wrote the paper. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

Funding information

This work was supported by grants from the Strategic Priority Research Program of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (grant number XDB11010400 to JXZ), and the National Natural Science Foundation of China (grant number 31672306 to YHZ and 31572277 to JXZ).

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interests.

Ethical approval

The procedures for animal care and use were performed in strict accordance with the guidelines of the Animal Use Committee of the Institute of Zoology, Chinese Academy of Sciences (IOZ 2015) and were approved by the Animal Use Committee of the Institute of Zoology, Chinese Academy of Sciences. Information regarding the animals’ origin and housing conditions are described above. Handling and experimental monitoring were conducted in a manner aimed at reducing stress and maximizing animal welfare.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Yao-Hua Zhang
    • 1
  • Lei Zhao
    • 1
    • 2
  • Xiao Guo
    • 1
    • 2
  • Jin-Hua Zhang
    • 1
  • Jian-Xu Zhang
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.State Key Laboratory of Integrated Management of Pest Insects and Rodents in Agriculture, Institute of ZoologyChinese Academy of SciencesBeijingChina
  2. 2.University of Chinese Academy of SciencesBeijingChina

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