Neuroethology of olfactory preference development

J Neurobiol. 1992 Dec;23(10):1557-73. doi: 10.1002/neu.480231012.


Young mammals come to approach the odor of their mother, a response that facilitates their survival during early life. Young rats induce a cascade of events in their mother to induce the emission of her odor. The pups increase circulating prolactin levels, which increases food intake and the emission of large quantities of cecotrophe containing the maternal odor. This odor is synthesized by the action of cecal microorganisms and changes with maternal diet. The diet-dependence of the odor requires the pups to acquire their attraction to the odor postnatally. The acquisition of this preference occurs when an odor is paired with the tactile stimulation that pups receive during maternal care. The action of the tactile stimulation appears to be mediated by noradrenaline. The development of this type of olfactory attraction is accompanied by changes in the regions of the olfactory bulb that are responsive to the attractive odor. Metabolic, anatomical, and neurophysiological changes in response to the attractive odor emerge in such regions of the bulb after early olfactory preference training.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Choice Behavior / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Nervous System / growth & development*
  • Nervous System Physiological Phenomena
  • Smell / physiology*