Pheromone helps mice remember where to find a mate

December 13, 2012

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 , use a sensitive tracking system to trace airborne to the source, while others, such as , 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 called darcin.

Darcin is a small protein in the urine 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 and to counter-mark with their own scent.

Dr Sarah Roberts, from the University's Institute of , said: "We have shown that a male sex pheromone in mice makes females and 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."

Explore further: Scientists reveal how mice recognise each other

More information: "Pheromonal Induction of Spatial Learning in Mice," by S.A. Roberts; Science, 2012.

Related Stories

It's in his smell

March 3, 2009

A female moth selects a mate based on the scent of his pheromones. An analysis of the pheromones used by the European Corn Borer (ECB, Ostrinia nubilalis), featured in the open access journal BMC Biology, shows that females ...

Pride, prejudice and the 'Darcin effect'

June 2, 2010

The pheromone that attracts female mice to the odour of a particular male has been identified. Named 'darcin' by researchers writing in the open access journal BMC Biology (after Darcy, the attractive hero in Jane Austen's ...

The scent of love: Decomposition and male sex pheromones

August 13, 2012

Young virgin female hide beetles (Dermestes maculatus) are attracted to cadavers by a combination of cadaver odour and male sex pheromones, finds a new study published in BioMed Central's open access journal Frontiers in ...

Recommended for you

Trap-jaw ants exhibit previously unseen jumping behavior

December 1, 2015

A species of trap-jaw ant has been found to exhibit a previously unseen jumping behavior, using its legs rather than its powerful jaws. The discovery makes this species, Odontomachus rixosus, the only species of ant that ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.