Newborn mice emit signals that promote parenting from mothers and fathers but trigger aggressive responses from virgin males. Although pup-directed attacks by males require vomeronasal function, the specific infant cues that elicit this behavior are unknown. We developed a behavioral paradigm based on reconstituted pup cues and showed that discrete infant morphological features combined with salivary chemosignals elicit robust male aggression. Seven vomeronasal receptors were identified based on infant-mediated activity, and the involvement of two receptors, Vmn2r65 and Vmn2r88, in infant-directed aggression was demonstrated by genetic deletion. Using the activation of these receptors as readouts for biochemical fractionation, we isolated two pheromonal compounds, the submandibular gland protein C and hemoglobins. Unexpectedly, none of the identified vomeronasal receptors and associated cues were specific to pups. Thus, infant-mediated aggression by virgin males relies on the recognition of pup's physical traits in addition to parental and infant chemical cues.
Keywords: aggression; chemosensory receptors; infanticide; infants; parenting; parents; pheromones; sensory detection; social behavior; vomeronasal.
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