From pheromones to behavior

Physiol Rev. 2009 Jul;89(3):921-56. doi: 10.1152/physrev.00037.2008.


In recent years, considerable progress has been achieved in the comprehension of the profound effects of pheromones on reproductive physiology and behavior. Pheromones have been classified as molecules released by individuals and responsible for the elicitation of specific behavioral expressions in members of the same species. These signaling molecules, often chemically unrelated, are contained in body fluids like urine, sweat, specialized exocrine glands, and mucous secretions of genitals. The standard view of pheromone sensing was based on the assumption that most mammals have two separated olfactory systems with different functional roles: the main olfactory system for recognizing conventional odorant molecules and the vomeronasal system specifically dedicated to the detection of pheromones. However, recent studies have reexamined this traditional interpretation showing that both the main olfactory and the vomeronasal systems are actively involved in pheromonal communication. The current knowledge on the behavioral, physiological, and molecular aspects of pheromone detection in mammals is discussed in this review.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Olfactory Pathways / physiology
  • Pheromones / physiology*
  • Sexual Behavior, Animal / physiology*
  • Signal Transduction / physiology
  • Vomeronasal Organ / physiology


  • Pheromones