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The secret codes of mammalian scents

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Abstract The scents of mammals are complex blends of natural products that reveal a wealth of individual information. Many mammals can decipher these scent codes to discern the gender, age, endocrine status, social status, and genotype of conspecifics using dedicated sensory receptors in their olfactory system. Among these social odors are pheromones, chemicals that trigger innate behaviors and physiological responses. Here, we review classes of mammal‐derived natural products that influence behavior through activation of the olfactory system. Copyright © 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. This article is categorized under: Biological Mechanisms > Cell Signaling

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Anatomy of the mouse olfactory system. The mouse olfactory system contains multiple subsystems, including the olfactory epithelium (OE), the vomeronasal organ (VNO), the Grueneberg ganglion (GG), and the septal organ (SO). Odorants enter the nasal cavity (NC) and access the OE during inhalation or the VNO by being pumped through a small duct. Sensory neurons of the OE, SO, and GG project to the main olfactory bulb (MOB), while sensory neurons of the VNO project to the accessory olfactory bulb (AOB). This image is adapted with permission from a previously published rendition of the olfactory system.2.

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Structures of some mammalian scent components. The chemical structures shown here correspond to entries in Figure 2, and include 1 (5α‐androst‐16‐en‐4‐one, a pheromone in boar saliva), 2 (4‐pregnene − 11β,21‐diol‐3,20‐dione 21‐sulfate, a sulfated steroid in mouse urine), 109 9 (trans − 2‐buten‐1‐thiol, a skunk odor constituent), 13a (α‐farnesene) and 13b (β‐farnesene). The natural configuration of the double bond in structure 10 is not reported, 60 and both enantiomers of structure 11 occur naturally.93.

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Examples of mammalian semiochemicals. We summarize reported findings on the biosynthesis and detection of prominent classes of mammal‐derived scent components discussed in the text. We expect this summary to be highly dynamic, as more information becomes available about known semiochemicals, and additional ligands are identified for the many orphan ORs, TAARs, V1Rs, and V2Rs across mammalian species. N/A indicates fields where data is not available.

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