Brief Communication                                                                                Nature, 12 July 2001

,Volume 412, No. 6843,  page 142  © Macmillan Publishers Ltd.

Neuropharmacology: Odorants may arouse instinctive behaviours*

Mehran Sam*, Sadhna Vora*, Bettina Malnic*, Weidong Ma†, Milos V Novtny†, Linda B Buck*
* Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Department of Neurobiology, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts 02115, USA
† Institute for Pheromone Research, Department of Chemistry, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana 47405, USA

The prevailing view of the mammalian olfactory system is that odorants are detected only in the nasal olfactory epithelium, whereas pheromones are generally detected in the vomeronasal organ. Here we show that vomeronasal neurons can actually detect both odorants and pheromones. This suggests that in mammals, as in insects, odorous compounds released from plants or other animal species may act as 'semiochemicals' -- signalling molecules that elicit stereotyped behaviours that are advantageous to the emitter or to the receiver.

*Reproduced with permission of Nature © Macmillan Pub. Ltd 2001 Reg. No. 785998 England.