Cyclic Regulation of Sensory Perception by a Female Hormone Alters Behavior

Cell. 2015 Jun 4;161(6):1334-44. doi: 10.1016/j.cell.2015.04.052.


Females may display dramatically different behavior depending on their state of ovulation. This is thought to occur through sex-specific hormones acting on behavioral centers in the brain. Whether incoming sensory activity also differs across the ovulation cycle to alter behavior has not been investigated. Here, we show that female mouse vomeronasal sensory neurons (VSNs) are temporarily and specifically rendered "blind" to a subset of male-emitted pheromone ligands during diestrus yet fully detect and respond to the same ligands during estrus. VSN silencing occurs through the action of the female sex-steroid progesterone. Not all VSNs are targeted for silencing; those detecting cat ligands remain continuously active irrespective of the estrous state. We identify the signaling components that account for the capacity of progesterone to target specific subsets of male-pheromone responsive neurons for inactivation. These findings indicate that internal physiology can selectively and directly modulate sensory input to produce state-specific behavior. PAPERCLIP.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Estrous Cycle*
  • Female
  • Male
  • Mice / physiology*
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Neurons / physiology
  • Pheromones / metabolism
  • Progesterone / metabolism
  • Proteins / chemistry
  • Sex Characteristics
  • Sexual Behavior, Animal*
  • Smell*
  • Vomeronasal Organ / cytology
  • Vomeronasal Organ / physiology*


  • Pheromones
  • Proteins
  • major urinary proteins
  • Progesterone