From genes to social communication: molecular sensing by the vomeronasal organ

Trends Neurosci. 2012 Oct;35(10):597-606. doi: 10.1016/j.tins.2012.04.011. Epub 2012 Jun 2.


The ability to distinguish molecular cues emitted by other individuals is a fundamental feature of social interactions such as finding and identifying a mate, establishing social hierarchies, and initiating interspecies defensive behaviors. In rodents, this ability involves the vomeronasal organ (VNO), a distinct chemoreceptive structure that is part of the olfactory system. Recent insights have led to unprecedented progress in identifying ligand and receptor families underlying vomeronasal recognition, characterizing the behavioral consequences caused by VNO activation, and defining higher neural circuits underlying the initiation of instinctive behaviors such as aggression. Here, we review such findings and discuss future areas for investigation, including large-scale mapping studies, immune system-VNO interactions, in vivo recording of neural activity, and optogenetic alteration of sexual and social behaviors.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Chemoreceptor Cells / physiology*
  • Models, Biological
  • Neural Pathways / physiology
  • Receptors, Odorant / biosynthesis
  • Receptors, Odorant / physiology
  • Sexual Behavior, Animal / physiology
  • Signal Transduction / genetics*
  • Signal Transduction / physiology
  • Social Behavior*
  • Vomeronasal Organ / physiology*


  • Receptors, Odorant