Phylogeny of the vomeronasal system and of receptor cell types in the olfactory and vomeronasal epithelia of vertebrates

Microsc Res Tech. 1992 Oct 1;23(1):1-21. doi: 10.1002/jemt.1070230102.


In this paper, the evolutionary origin of the vomeronasal system as a discrete sensory system separate from olfaction is examined. The presence of a discrete vomeronasal system appears to be a derived character in tetrapods, and its presence in larval amphibians indicates that the system did not arise as a terrestrial adaptation. The vomeronasal system has been lost independently in several taxa, including crocodilians, some bats, cetaceans, and some primates. The presence of microvillar receptor cells in the vomeronasal epithelium appears to be the ancestral condition for tetrapods, and alternative hypotheses concerning the ancestral condition for receptor cell types in the vertebrate olfactory epithelium are discussed. Finally, the possibility that the vomeronasal system is present in some fishes in a form that has not been recognized is discussed in relation to the phylogenetic distribution of receptor cell types in vertebrates.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Epithelium / anatomy & histology
  • Nasal Septum / anatomy & histology
  • Nose / anatomy & histology*
  • Olfactory Mucosa / anatomy & histology
  • Phylogeny*
  • Sensory Receptor Cells / anatomy & histology*
  • Smell / physiology*
  • Vertebrates / anatomy & histology*