Pheromones are chemical messengers that trigger neuroendocrine responses and reproductive behaviors — in humans they have been implicated in increasing sexual attractiveness. In mice, pheromones are detected by the vomeronsal organ which sends the information to the accessory olfactory bulb (AOB), but the precise mechanisms that integrate these signals have been unclear. In the February 21 Science, Minmin Luo and colleagues at Duke University Medical Center, Durham, North Carolina, USA, show that neurons in the AOB generate unique response signatures to pheromonal stimulation and provide a substrate for distinguishing the genetic makeup and gender of conspecifics (Science, 299:1196-1201, February 14, 2003).

Luo et al. recorded neuronal firing rates from single neurons in the AOB of male mice engaged in natural behaviors. They observed that neuronal firing was modulated by physical contact with male and female conspecifics, with individual neurons activated selectively by specific combinations of the...

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