A Candidate Vertebrate Pheromone, SPF, Increases Female Receptivity in a Salamander

  • Lynne D. Houck
  • Richard A. Watts
  • Louise M. Mead
  • Catherine A. Palmer
  • Stevan J. Arnold
  • Pamela W. Feldhoff
  • Richard C. Feldhoff


Plethodontid (lungless) salamanders have evolved an unusual pheromone delivery system in which the male courtship pheromone is applied to the skin of the female, apparently diffusing through the mucosal-rich epithelia into her superficial capillary system. In Desmognathus ocoee, a plethodontid salamander that uses the diffusion mode of pheromone delivery, we conducted a behavioural bioassay to test a 20–25 kDa molecular weight fraction of the male courtship pheromone: this fraction was effective in increasing female receptivity. The principal component of the D. ocoee pheromone fraction was identified as a 25 kDa protein that had significant sequence similarity with the precursor of a newt reproductive pheromone (a decapeptide termed sodefrin). We termed the principal protein component in the D. ocoee pheromone “Sodefrin Precursor-like Factor” (SPF). SPF also occurs in other plethodontid salamanders, including species of Plethodon, Aneides and Eurycea. Across these species, SPF is a highly variable protein that bears the signature of positive selection. The presence of SPF in distantly related genera suggests that the sodefrin precursor gene has been retained as a courtship signal throughout the evolutionary radiation of plethodontid salamanders.


Female Receptivity Behavioural Trial Male Pheromone Behavioural Bioassay Reproductive Protein 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media,LLC 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Lynne D. Houck
    • 1
  • Richard A. Watts
  • Louise M. Mead
  • Catherine A. Palmer
  • Stevan J. Arnold
  • Pamela W. Feldhoff
  • Richard C. Feldhoff
  1. 1.Oregon State University, ZoologyPortlandUSA

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