Researchers find gender separation affects sense of smell

December 19, 2018, University of Wyoming
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

A University of Wyoming researcher and his team have discovered that separating male and female mice, over time, changes the way they smell.

The study investigates how the olfactory sensory receptors in change as a function of exposure to odors emitted from members of the opposite sex, says Stephen Santoro, an assistant professor in the Department of Zoology and Physiology.

"The idea is that our experiences change our in a way that is semipermanent. This is probably true in humans as much as mice," Santoro says. "We found that mice that are housed with the opposite sex all of the time have olfactory sensory receptors that are similar in composition because they are smelling similar smells. On the other hand, mice that were housed separately by sex have sex-specific differences in their . As a result, they may perceive odors differently."

The new study, titled "Sex Separation Induces Differences in the Olfactory Sensory Receptor Repertoires of Male and Female Mice," was published Dec. 4 in Nature Communications, an open access journal that publishes high-quality research from all areas of the natural sciences. Papers published by the journal represent important advances of significance to specialists within each field.

Carl van der Linden, a graduate student from Santa Ynez, Calif., in the UW Neuroscience Program, was the paper's lead author. Pooja Gupta, a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Zoology and Physiology and who works in Santoro's lab, was a contributing author. Susanne Jakob, a preceptor in the Department of Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology at Harvard University; and Catherine Dulac, the Higgins Professor of Molecular and Cellular Biology and department chair at Harvard University, and a scientist at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, were contributing authors.

Santoro is the paper's corresponding author. He began this research as a postdoctoral researcher in Dulac's lab at Harvard before bringing his work to UW.

"The olfactory system of mice and humans is very similar," Santoro says. "Mice are a very good model to understand how neural systems work, in general. They are a much better model for humans than flies and other common-model organisms."

Sensory activity plays pivotal roles in the development of the nervous system. Mouse odors are a complex mixture of volatile and non-volatile chemicals derived from skin secretions, urine, tears, saliva and feces, which are known to differ substantially in their chemical compositions between males and females.

"Human males and females smell different, too. Men give off odors from testosterone metabolites, for example," Santoro explains. "There are in being able to detect this. Some people would say the smell is good, while others find it unpleasant or cannot detect it at all. These differences in perception are related to genetic differences in people's receptors. Some researchers speculate that these kinds of molecules might function as pheromones in humans."

Unlike most neurons in the mammalian nervous system, (OSNs) are continually born and replaced throughout life, a process that normally replaces damaged neurons in humans when we have a cold or use a zinc nasal spray, Santoro says. Changes in the abundance of specific OSN subtypes occur, in part, through a use-it-or-lose-it mechanism in which active OSNs are retained and silent OSNs are eliminated from the population, the paper concludes.

Explore further: Gene therapy restores sense of smell in mice

More information: Carl van der Linden et al, Sex separation induces differences in the olfactory sensory receptor repertoires of male and female mice, Nature Communications (2018). DOI: 10.1038/s41467-018-07120-1

Related Stories

Gene therapy restores sense of smell in mice

July 30, 2018

Re-expressing a protein critical for the detection and perception of odors restores function of the olfactory system in a genetic mouse model of lost hair-like cellular structures known as cilia, according to research published ...

When neurons are 'born' impacts olfactory behavior in mice

December 7, 2016

New research from North Carolina State University shows that neurons generated at different life stages in mice can impact aspects of their olfactory sense and behavior. The work could have implications for our understanding ...

Fish courtship pheromone uses the brain's smell pathway

May 30, 2016

Research at the RIKEN Brain Science Institute in Japan has revealed that a molecule involved in fish reproduction activates the brain via the nose. The pheromone is released by female zebrafish and sensed by smell receptors ...

Recommended for you

Coffee-based colloids for direct solar absorption

March 22, 2019

Solar energy is one of the most promising resources to help reduce fossil fuel consumption and mitigate greenhouse gas emissions to power a sustainable future. Devices presently in use to convert solar energy into thermal ...

EPA adviser is promoting harmful ideas, scientists say

March 22, 2019

The Trump administration's reliance on industry-funded environmental specialists is again coming under fire, this time by researchers who say that Louis Anthony "Tony" Cox Jr., who leads a key Environmental Protection Agency ...

0 comments

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.