Beginning with the neuroepithelium of the vomeronasal organ, the accessory olfactory system in rodents runs parallel to the main olfactory system and is specialized in the detection of pheromones. Only a small number of vomeronasal agonists carrying pheromonal information have been identified this far. These structurally diverse classes of chemicals include peptides secreted by exocrine glands and range from small volatile molecules to proteins and fragments thereof present in urine. Most pheromones activate both vomeronasal and main olfactory sensory neurons, making the identification of functionally relevant populations of sensory neurons difficult. Analyses of gene-targeted mice selectively affecting either vomeronasal or main olfactory signaling have attempted to elucidate the functional contribution of the different chemosensory epithelia to pheromone sensing in mice. These mouse models suggest that both the main and the accessory olfactory systems can converge and synergize to express the complex array of stereotyped behaviors and hormonal changes triggered by pheromones.
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