Activation of the mouse odorant receptor 37 subsystem coincides with a reduction of novel environment-induced activity within the paraventricular nucleus of the hypothalamus

Eur J Neurosci. 2015 Mar;41(6):793-801. doi: 10.1111/ejn.12838. Epub 2015 Jan 24.


Within the main olfactory system of mammals, a unique subsystem exists that is comprised of sensory neurons expressing odorant receptors (ORs) of the OR37 subfamily. These receptors are exclusive for mammals and are highly conserved across species. The mouse OR37 receptor subtypes A, B and C were shown to be activated by the long-chain aliphatic aldehydes pentadecanal, hexadecanal and heptadecanal, respectively. The search for biological sources of these compounds showed that bodily secretions from conspecifics activated the OR37A, B and C glomerulus. At the same time, the activity of cells in a target region of projection neurons from OR37 glomeruli, the paraventricular nucleus of the hypothalamus (PVN), was reduced compared with controls (clean test box). A large number of the activated cells in the PVN of mice that were placed into a clean test box were corticotropin-releasing hormone cells, indicating an induction of the stress axis due to the novel environment. The much lower number of activated cells of mice in a box enriched with bodily secretions from conspecifics indicated a reduced stress response. As bodily secretions from conspecifics activated the OR37 system and simultaneously reduced stress-induced activation of the PVN, it was tested whether the ligands for OR37 receptors could induce this effect. Indeed, a similarly reduced activity in the PVN was found in mice kept in a clean test box and exposed to a mixture of the OR37 ligands delivered via an air stream. These data indicate that the OR37 system may play a role in mediating a phenomenon called social buffering.

Keywords: mouse; odorant; olfaction; social buffering; stress.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Corticotropin-Releasing Hormone / metabolism
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Odorants*
  • Olfactory Bulb / physiology*
  • Paraventricular Hypothalamic Nucleus / metabolism
  • Paraventricular Hypothalamic Nucleus / physiology*
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-fos / metabolism
  • Receptors, Odorant / genetics
  • Receptors, Odorant / physiology*


  • Olfr37 protein, mouse
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-fos
  • Receptors, Odorant
  • Corticotropin-Releasing Hormone