The rodent accessory olfactory system

J Comp Physiol A Neuroethol Sens Neural Behav Physiol. 2010 Oct;196(10):767-77. doi: 10.1007/s00359-010-0555-z. Epub 2010 Jul 4.


The accessory olfactory system contributes to the perception of chemical stimuli in the environment. This review summarizes the structure of the accessory olfactory system, the stimuli that activate it, and the responses elicited in the receptor cells and in the brain. The accessory olfactory system consists of a sensory organ, the vomeronasal organ, and its central projection areas: the accessory olfactory bulb, which is connected to the amygdala and hypothalamus, and also to the cortex. In the vomeronasal organ, several receptors-in contrast to the main olfactory receptors-are sensitive to volatile or nonvolatile molecules. In a similar manner to the main olfactory epithelium, the vomeronasal organ is sensitive to common odorants and pheromones. Each accessory olfactory bulb receives input from the ipsilateral vomeronasal organ, but its activity is modulated by centrifugal projections arising from other brain areas. The processing of vomeronasal stimuli in the amygdala involves contributions from the main olfactory system, and results in long-lasting responses that may be related to the activation of the hypothalamic-hypophyseal axis over a prolonged timeframe. Different brain areas receive inputs from both the main and the accessory olfactory systems, possibly merging the stimulation of the two sensory organs to originate a more complex and integrated chemosensory perception.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Female
  • Male
  • Olfactory Bulb / anatomy & histology
  • Olfactory Bulb / physiology*
  • Olfactory Pathways / anatomy & histology
  • Olfactory Pathways / physiology*
  • Pheromones / physiology
  • Rodentia / physiology*
  • Smell / physiology
  • Vomeronasal Organ / anatomy & histology
  • Vomeronasal Organ / physiology*


  • Pheromones