Mammalian pheromones

Annu Rev Physiol. 2014;76:151-75. doi: 10.1146/annurev-physiol-021113-170334. Epub 2013 Aug 26.

Abstract

Mammalian pheromones control a myriad of innate social behaviors and acutely regulate hormone levels. Responses to pheromones are highly robust, reproducible, and stereotyped and likely involve developmentally predetermined neural circuits. Here, I review several facets of pheromone transduction in mammals, including (a) chemosensory receptors and signaling components of the main olfactory epithelium and vomeronasal organ involved in pheromone detection; (b) pheromone-activated neural circuits subject to sex-specific and state-dependent modulation; and (c) the striking chemical diversity of mammalian pheromones, which range from small, volatile molecules and sulfated steroids to large families of proteins. Finally, I review (d) molecular mechanisms underlying various behavioral and endocrine responses, including modulation of puberty and estrous; control of reproduction, aggression, suckling, and parental behaviors; individual recognition; and distinguishing of own species from predators, competitors, and prey. Deconstruction of pheromone transduction mechanisms provides a critical foundation for understanding how odor response pathways generate instinctive behaviors.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior / physiology
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology
  • Humans
  • Mammals / physiology*
  • Odorants
  • Olfactory Bulb / physiology
  • Olfactory Mucosa / physiology
  • Olfactory Pathways / anatomy & histology
  • Olfactory Pathways / physiology
  • Olfactory Receptor Neurons / physiology
  • Pheromones / physiology*
  • Pheromones, Human / physiology
  • Smell / physiology

Substances

  • Pheromones
  • Pheromones, Human