Structural requirements for the activation of vomeronasal sensory neurons by MHC peptides

Nat Neurosci. 2009 Dec;12(12):1551-8. doi: 10.1038/nn.2452.


In addition to their role in the immune response, peptide ligands of major histocompatibility complex (MHC) molecules function as olfactory cues for subsets of vomeronasal sensory neurons (VSNs) in the mammalian nose. How MHC peptide diversity is recognized and encoded by these cells is unclear. We found that mouse VSNs expressing the vomeronasal receptor gene V2r1b (also known as Vmn2r26) detected MHC peptides at subpicomolar concentrations and exhibited combinatorial activation with overlapping specificities. In a given cell, peptide responsiveness was broad, but highly specific; peptides differing by a single amino-acid residue could be distinguished. Cells transcribing a V2r1b locus that has been disrupted by gene targeting no longer showed such peptide responses. Our results reveal fundamental parameters governing the response to MHC peptides by VSNs. We suggest that the peptide presentation system provided by MHC molecules co-evolves with the peptide recognition systems expressed by T cells and VSNs.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acids / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Calcium / metabolism
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins / genetics
  • Ligands
  • Mice
  • Mutagenesis / physiology
  • Peptide Fragments / metabolism
  • Protein Binding / physiology
  • Receptors, Pheromone / genetics*
  • Receptors, Pheromone / metabolism*
  • Sensory Receptor Cells / physiology*
  • Smell / physiology*
  • Vomeronasal Organ / cytology*


  • Amino Acids
  • Ligands
  • Peptide Fragments
  • Receptors, Pheromone
  • V1rb2 protein, mouse
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins
  • Calcium