The vomeronasal organ (VNO) is a chemosensory subsystem found in the nose of most mammals. It is principally tasked with detecting pheromones and other chemical signals that initiate innate behavioural responses. The VNO expresses subfamilies of vomeronasal receptors (VRs) in a cell-specific manner: each sensory neuron expresses just one or two receptors and silences all the other receptor genes. VR genes vary greatly in number within mammalian genomes, from no functional genes in some primates to many hundreds in rodents. They bind semiochemicals, some of which are also encoded in gene families that are coexpanded in species with correspondingly large VR repertoires. Protein and peptide cues that activate the VNO tend to be expressed in exocrine tissues in sexually dimorphic, and sometimes individually variable, patterns. Few chemical ligand–VR–behaviour relationships have been fully elucidated to date, largely due to technical difficulties in working with large, homologous gene families with high sequence identity. However, analysis of mouse lines with mutations in genes involved in ligand–VR signal transduction has revealed that the VNO mediates a range of social behaviours, including male–male and maternal aggression, sexual attraction, lordosis, and selective pregnancy termination, as well as interspecific responses such as avoidance and defensive behaviours. The unusual logic of VR expression now offers an opportunity to map the specific neural circuits that drive these behaviours.
Mammalian Genome – Springer Journals
Published: Jul 25, 2013
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