Pheromone reception in mammals

Part of the Reviews of Physiology, Biochemistry and Pharmacology book series (REVIEWS, volume 154)


Pheromonal communication is the most convenient way to transfer information regarding gender and social status in animals of the same species with the holistic goal of sustaining reproduction. This type of information exchange is based on pheromones, molecules often chemically unrelated, that are contained in body fluids like urine, sweat, specialized exocrine glands, and mucous secretions of genitals. So profound is the relevance of pheromones over the evolutionary process that a specific peripheral organ devoted to their recognition, namely the vomeronasal organ of Jacobson, and a related central pathway arose in most vertebrate species. Although the vomeronasal system is well developed in reptiles and amphibians, most mammals strongly rely on pheromonal communication. Humans use pheromones too; evidence on the existence of a specialized organ for their detection, however, is very elusive indeed. In the present review, we will focus our attention on the behavioral, physiological, and molecular aspects of pheromone detection in mammals. We will discuss the responses to pheromonal stimulation in different animal species, emphasizing the complicacy of this type of communication. In the light of the most recent results, we will also discuss the complex organization of the transduction molecules that underlie pheromone detection and signal transmission from vomeronasal neurons to the higher centers of the brain. Communication is a primary feature of living organisms, allowing the coordination of different behavioral paradigms among individuals. Communication has evolved through a variety of different strategies, and each species refined its own preferred communication medium. From a phylogenetic point of view, the most widespread and ancient way of communication is through chemical signals named pheromones: it occurs in all taxa, from prokaryotes to eukaryotes. The release of specific pheromones into the environment is a sensitive and definite way to send messages to other members of the same species. Therefore, the action of an organism can alter the behavior of another organism, thereby increasing the fitness of either or both. Albeit slow in transmission and not easily modulated, pheromones can travel around objects in the dark and over long distances. In addition, they are emitted when necessary and their biosynthesis is usually economic. In essence, they represent the most efficient tool to refine the pattern of social behaviors and reproductive strategies.


Mitral Cell Olfactory Neuron TRPC2 Channel Main Olfactory Bulb Accessory Olfactory Bulb 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



This work was supported by the Italian Board of Education and University (COFIN and FIRB).


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© Springer-Verlag 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Dipartimento di Scienze BiomedicheUniversità di ModenaModenaItaly
  2. 2.Dipartimento di Anatomia e Fisiologia UmanaUniversità di PadovaPadovaItaly
  3. 3.Dipartimento di Neuroscienze, Sezione di FisiologiaUniversità di ParmaParmaItaly

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