The main and accessory olfactory systems of female mice are activated differentially by dominant versus subordinate male urinary odors

Brain Res. 2011 Jul 21;1402:20-9. doi: 10.1016/j.brainres.2011.05.035. Epub 2011 May 23.


Previous studies have shown that female preferences for male pheromones depend on the female's reproductive condition and the dominance status of the male. However, it is unknown which olfactory system detects the odors that result in a preference for a dominant male. Therefore, in the present study, we asked whether dominant versus subordinate male urinary odors differentially activate the main and accessory olfactory systems in female (C57Bl/6j) mice by monitoring the induction of the immediate early gene, c-fos. A more robust induction of Fos was observed in female mice which had direct nasal contact with dominant male urinary odors in four specific segments of the accessory olfactory system, i.e., the posteroventral part of the medial amygdala, the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis, the medial part of the preoptic nucleus and the ventrolateral part of the ventromedial hypothalamus, compared to females that were exposed to subordinate male urine. This greater activation of the accessory olfactory pathway by dominant male urine suggests that there are differences in the nonvolatile components of dominant versus subordinate male urine that are detected by the vomeronasal organ. By contrast, subordinate male urinary odors induced a greater activation in the piriform cortex which is part of the main olfactory system, suggesting that female mice discriminate between dominant and subordinate male urine using their main olfactory system as well.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Dominance-Subordination*
  • Female
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Odorants*
  • Olfactory Bulb / physiology*
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-fos / biosynthesis
  • Sex Characteristics*
  • Sexual Behavior, Animal / physiology*
  • Smell / physiology*
  • Urine*
  • Vomeronasal Organ / physiology*


  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-fos