Sex differences in the vomeronasal system

Brain Res Bull. 1997;44(4):377-82. doi: 10.1016/s0361-9230(97)00217-7.


In the early eighties we found sex differences in the vomeronasal organ (VNO) and hypothesized that the vomeronasal system (VNS), a complex neural network involved in the control of reproductive behavior, might be sexually dimorphic. At that time sex differences had already been described for some structures that receive VNO input, such as the medial amygdala, the medial preoptic area, the ventromedial hypothalamic nucleus, and the ventral region of the premammillary nucleus. Since then, we have shown sex differences in the accessory olfactory bulb (AOB), the bed nucleus of the accessory olfactory tract (BAOT), and the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (BST). When new VNS connections were found, all of them ended in nuclei that present sex differences. In general, sex differences in the olfactory system show two morphological patterns: one in which males present greater morphological measures than females, and just the opposite. To explain the morphometric measures of males in the latter, it has been hypothesized that androgens serve as inhibitors. Our work on the involvement of the GABA(A) receptor in the development of AOB and maternal behavior sex differences also suggests that neonatal changes in neuronal membrane permeability to the ion Cl- differences. This might be the first animal model to help us to understand the situation in which human genetic and gonadal sex do not agree with brain and behavioral sex. Finally, we stress that sex differences in the VNS constitute a neurofunctional model for understanding sex differences in reproductive behaviors.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Models, Biological
  • Models, Psychological
  • Olfactory Bulb / physiology
  • Olfactory Pathways / physiology
  • Reproduction / physiology*
  • Sex Characteristics
  • Sexual Behavior
  • Sexual Behavior, Animal
  • Vomeronasal Organ / physiology*