Destruction of the main olfactory epithelium reduces female sexual behavior and olfactory investigation in female mice

Chem Senses. 2006 May;31(4):315-23. doi: 10.1093/chemse/bjj035. Epub 2006 Feb 16.


We studied the contribution of the main olfactory system to mate recognition and sexual behavior in female mice. Female mice received an intranasal irrigation of either a zinc sulfate (ZnSO4) solution to destroy the main olfactory epithelium (MOE) or saline (SAL) to serve as control. ZnSO4-treated female mice were no longer able to reliably distinguish between volatile as well as nonvolatile odors from an intact versus a castrated male. Furthermore, sexual behavior in mating tests with a sexually experienced male was significantly reduced in ZnSO4-treated female mice. Vomeronasal function did not seem to be affected by ZnSO4 treatment: nasal application of male urine induced similar levels of Fos protein in the mitral and granule cells of the accessory olfactory bulb (AOB) of ZnSO4 as well as SAL-treated female mice. Likewise, soybean agglutinin staining, which stains the axons of vomeronasal neurons projecting to the glomerular layer of the AOB was similar in ZnSO4-treated female mice compared to SAL-treated female mice. By contrast, a significant reduction of Fos in the main olfactory bulb was observed in ZnSO4-treated females in comparison to SAL-treated animals, confirming a substantial destruction of the MOE. These results show that the MOE is primarily involved in the detection and processing of odors that are used to localize and identify the sex and endocrine status of conspecifics. By contrast, both the main and accessory olfactory systems contribute to female sexual receptivity in female mice.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Female
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Odorants
  • Olfactory Bulb / pathology
  • Olfactory Bulb / physiology
  • Olfactory Mucosa / cytology
  • Olfactory Mucosa / drug effects
  • Olfactory Mucosa / physiology*
  • Posture
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Sexual Behavior, Animal / drug effects
  • Sexual Behavior, Animal / physiology*
  • Smell / drug effects
  • Smell / physiology*
  • Zinc Sulfate / pharmacology


  • Zinc Sulfate