The combined role of the main olfactory and vomeronasal systems in social communication in mammals

Horm Behav. 2007 Dec;52(5):561-70. doi: 10.1016/j.yhbeh.2007.08.012. Epub 2007 Sep 4.


The main olfactory and the vomeronasal systems are the two systems by which most vertebrates detect chemosensory cues that mediate social behavior. Much research has focused on how one system or the other is critical for particular behaviors. This has lead to a vision of two distinct and complexly autonomous olfactory systems. A closer look at research over the past 30 years reveals a different picture however. These two seemingly distinct systems are much more integrated than previously thought. One novel set of chemosensory cues in particular (MHC Class I peptide ligands) can show us how both systems are capable of detecting the same chemosensory cues, through different mechanisms yet provide the same general information (genetic individuality). Future research will need to now focus on how two seemingly distinct chemosensory systems together detect pheromones and mediate social behaviors. Do these systems work independently, synergistically or competitively in communicating between individuals of the same species?

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animal Communication*
  • Animals
  • Genetic Variation / physiology
  • Gonads / physiology
  • Humans
  • Hypothalamo-Hypophyseal System / physiology
  • Individuality
  • Major Histocompatibility Complex / physiology
  • Mammals
  • Models, Biological
  • Olfactory Pathways / physiology*
  • Pheromones / physiology
  • Social Behavior*
  • Vomeronasal Organ / physiology*


  • Pheromones