The vomeronasal organ (VNO) of mammals plays an essential role in the perception of chemical stimuli of social nature including pheromone-like signals but direct evidence for the transduction of pheromones by vomeronasal sensory neurons has been lacking. The recent development of electrophysiological and optical imaging methods using confocal microscopy has enabled researchers to systematically analyze sensory responses in large populations of mouse vomeronasal neurons. These experiments revealed that vomeronasal neurons are surprisingly sensitive and highly discriminative detectors of volatile, urinary metabolites that have pheromonal activity in recipient mice. Functional mapping studies of pheromone receptor activation have uncovered the basic principles of sensory processing by vomeronasal neurons and revealed striking differences in the neural mechanisms by which chemosensory information is detected by receptor neurons in the VNO and the main olfactory epithelium. These advances offer the opportunity to decipher the logic of mammalian pheromonal communication.
Copyright 2002 Wiley-Liss, Inc.