Mice can “sniff out” important information about another mouse’s immune system that may aid them in mate selection, embryo implantation, prevention of inbreeding and other behaviors, according to a study from researchers at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore. The researchers found that mice, through their sense of smell, detect specific molecules -- known as MHC peptides -- in the urine and other bodily fluids from other mice. Those peptides provide clues about a mouse’s immune system, revealing information such as whether that mouse would be a good match for reproduction and ensuring healthy offspring. The study findings were published in the Nov. 5 issue of the journal Science.
“This study is significant because we have identified a new class of molecules that send information between the immune system and the nose,” says Frank Zufall, Ph.D., professor of anatomy and neurobiology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and co-author of the study. “In essence, we’ve identified a sensory mechanism for detecting genes in the immune system.”
The researchers, led by Trese Leinders-Zufall, Ph.D., an associate professor of anatomy and neurobiology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, found that immune system peptides in mouse urine stimulated neurons deep within the vomeronasal organ (VNO) of other mice. The VNO is an organ in the nasal cavity that helps control reproductive and social behavior in many mammals. Vomeronasal sensory neurons detect pheromones and other molecules that carry information about gender, sexual and social status, dominance hierarchy, and individuality.
Dr. Zufall adds, “Our study raises the question of whether these molecules are present in secretions such as sweat and saliva in humans, can they be detected by the human nose, and, if so, do they have any influence on our social behavior?”
Dr. Leinders-Zufall’s co-authors are: Xia-Hong Li and Frank Zufall at the University of Maryland School of Medicine; Peter Brennan at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom; Patricia Widmeyer, Prashanth Chandramani and Heinz Breer at the University of Hohenheim in Germany; Andrea Maul-Pavicic, Martina Jaeger and Thomas Boehm at the Max-Planck Institute of Immunobiology in Freiburg, Germany.
This study was supported in part by the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders and by the Deutsche Forschungsemeinschaft.
For patient inquiries, call 1-800-492-5538 or click here to make an appointment.