The vomeronasal organ (VNO) is a sensory organ that is found in most terrestrial vertebrates and that is principally implicated in the detection of pheromones. The VNO contains specialized sensory neurons organized in a pseudostratified neuroepithelium that recognize chemical signals involved in initiating innate behavioral responses. In rodents, the VNO neuroepithelium is segregated into two distinct zones, apical and basal. The molecular mechanisms involved in ligand detection by apical and basal VNO sensory neurons differ extensively. These two VNO subsystems express different subfamilies of vomeronasal receptors and signaling molecules, detect distinct chemosignals, and project to separate regions of the accessory olfactory bulb (AOB). The roles that these olfactory subdivisions play in the control of specific olfactory-mediated behaviors are largely unclear. However, analysis of mutant mouse lines for signal transduction components together with identification of defined chemosensory ligands has revealed a fundamental role of the basal part of the mouse VNO in mediating a wide range of instinctive behaviors, such as aggression, predator avoidance, and sexual attraction. Here we will compare the divergent functions and synergies between the olfactory subsystems and consider new insights in how higher neural circuits are defined for the initiation of instinctive behaviors.
Keywords: Gαo signaling; V2R; behavior; olfaction; peptides; pheromone; vomeronasal organ.