Scientists at the University of Liverpool have found that male mice produce a pheromone that provokes females and competitor males to remember a preference for the place where the pheromone was previously encountered.
Some animals, such as moths, use a sensitive tracking system to trace airborne sex pheromones to the source, while others, such as snakes, follow trails of pheromones left on the ground. A team from the University's Institute of Integrative Biology has discovered that mice use a different system to locate mates and competitors by remembering exactly where they have encountered a male sex pheromone called darcin.
Darcin is a small protein in the urine scent marks of male mice. Although not detected from a distance, females that explore scent-marked areas are instinctively attracted to spend time near this pheromone when they come into contact with it.
The research, published in the journal, Science, shows that the pheromone stimulates very rapid learning of spatial cues associated with its location, so that females remember a preference for this location when they return to the area.
Males use the same mechanism to remember the location of rival male scents, making contact with darcin when they detect a male's scent that is not their own. The ability to remember and rapidly relocate sites scent marked by other males will help them to drive off rivals and to counter-mark with their own scent.
Dr Sarah Roberts, from the University's Institute of Integrative Biology, said: "We have shown that a male sex pheromone in mice makes females and competitor males remember exactly where they encountered the pheromone and show a preference for this site for up to two weeks afterwards. Given the opportunity, they will find that same place again, even if they encountered the scent only once and the scent is no longer there."
Professor Jane Hurst, who leads the University's Mammalian Behaviour and Evolution Group, explains: "This attraction to the place they remember is just as strong as attraction to the scent itself. Darcin, therefore, induces mice to learn a spatial map of the location of attractive males and their scents, to which they can easily return. This avoids the difficulty of having to detect specific scents from a distance and trace them to their source.
"Pheromones are used for sexual attraction and for advertising an animal's location in many species, particularly among mammals. It will be interesting to discover whether such highly potent associative learning is induced by pheromones in other species and to understand the brain mechanisms involved."
University of Liverpool: http://www.liv.ac.uk
This press release was posted to serve as a topic for discussion. Please comment below. We try our best to only post press releases that are associated with peer reviewed scientific literature. Critical discussions of the research are appreciated. If you need help finding a link to the original article, please contact us on twitter or via e-mail.
Some, like dolphins or chimps, are sophisticated communicators. But do they have their own languages? Its a question that misses the point
Grey and harbour seals in the North Sea weave in and out of offshore wind farms in search of fish, which gather around turbines
Researchers have created wheat that is resistant to a common disease, using advanced gene editing methods.
An archaeological dig uncovers new clues about life and death in America's early history
Ted Stanley is giving $650 million to the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard to find and treat the genetic underpinnings of mental illnesses. His son has bipolar disorder.
As far as agricultural genome research goes, this may be the best thing since sliced bread - wheat bread, that is.
The discovery and culturing of bacteria that eat and excrete electrons means we may soon find out just how little electricity fundamental life requires
The spectacularly well-preserved prehistoric sea creature sported compound eyes, body armor and two spiky claws for grabbing prey
The Beagle's library of more than 400 books has been reconstructed and made freely available in digital form
When the gorilla Willie B. had to move to a tiny cage at the Atlanta Zoo for six months, the vet staff decided to put Thorazine in the Coca-Cola he drank in the morning. Willie responded to the drug as many institutionalized humans do: He shuffled back and forth across his cage with dulled eyes.