For mice, getting teary-eyed conveys more than just sentiment. A non-volatile peptide secreted from the eyes of male mice elicits neuronal activity in the vomeronasal organ (VNO) of females, pointing to a new mode of chemical communication between mammals. Kazushige Touhara at the University of Tokyo's Department of Integrated Biosciences says that while most putative mammalian pheromones are volatile substances present in urine, mice also explore the facial region of other individuals during social encounters, which activates neuronal firing in the VNO.

To investigate the source of this activation, Touhara and coauthors measured VNO sensory neuronal activity in mice exposed to various candidate stimuli. Direct contact with adult males or their shaved fur induced a robust response in females. From here, the source was narrowed down to a peptide in secretions from the extraorbital lacrimal gland, which the researchers named exocrine gland secreting peptide (ESP).1 In situ hybridization located...

Interested in reading more?

Magaizne Cover

Become a Member of

Receive full access to digital editions of The Scientist, as well as TS Digest, feature stories, more than 35 years of archives, and much more!
Already a member?