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Title: The Vomeronasal Organ Mediates Interspecies Defensive Behaviors through Detection of Protein Pheromone Homologs
Author: Papes, Fabio; Logan, Darren W.; Stowers, Lisa
Year: 2010
Is part of: Cell (Cambridge), v. 141, p. 692 - 703

Citation: Papes, Fabio; Logan, Darren W.; Stowers, Lisa; The Vomeronasal Organ Mediates Interspecies Defensive Behaviors through Detection of Protein Pheromone Homologs. Cell (Cambridge), v.141, p. 692-703, 2010

Abstract: Potential predators emit uncharacterized chemosignals that warn receiving species of danger. Neurons that sense these stimuli remain unknown. Here we show that detection and processing of fear-evoking odors emitted from cat, rat, and snake require the function of sensory neurons in the vomeronasal organ. To investigate the molecular nature of the sensory cues emitted by predators, we isolated the salient ligands from two species using a combination of innate behavioral assays in naive receiving animals, calcium imaging, and c-Fos induction. Surprisingly, the defensive behavior-promoting activity released by other animals is encoded by species-specific ligands belonging to the major urinary protein (Mup) family, homologs of aggression-promoting mouse pheromones. We show that recombinant Mup proteins are sufficient to activate sensory neurons and initiate defensive behavior similarly to native odors. This co-option of existing sensory mechanisms provides a molecular solution to the difficult problem of evolving a variety of species-specific molecular detectors.

Funding: We thank F. Langone, G.A.G. Pereira, F.T.M. Costa, P. Arruda, A.T. Yamada, M.J. da Silva, M.G. Paniago, J.A. Yunes, and S.T.O. Saad for resources and K. Spencer, A. Roberts, C. Levy, K. Lloyd, T.S. Nakahara, F.B. Beato, E. Kiyota, and K.A. Flanagan for technical support. We also thank our volunteer cats Mitsy, Chewy, Cringer, Holiday, and Dolce. C. S. Zuker, A. Patapoutian, and K.K. Baldwin commented on the manuscript. This work was supported by a Young Investigator Grant from FAPESP (F.P.), the Skaggs Foundation (D.W.L. and L.S.), and NIH-NIDCD (L.S.). F.P. and L.S. initiated the study, F.P. and D.W.L. performed the experiments, and all authors wrote the manuscript.
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