Contact with urinary proteins stimulates countermarking in male mice

Humphries, R. E., Robertson, D. H., Beynon, R. J. & Hurst, J. L. (1999). Unravelling the chemical basis of competitive scent marking in house mice. Anim Behav 58, 1177-1190. [PUBMED] [PDF]

Major urinary proteins (MUPs) in the urine of male house mice, Mus domesticus, bind the male signalling volatiles 2- sec -butyl-4,5-dihydrothiazole (thiazole) and 3,4-dehydro- exo -brevicomin (brevicomin) and slowly release these volatiles from urinary scent marks. To examine the role of urinary proteins and volatiles, either attached or unattached to the proteins, in competitive scent marking, we fractionated urine from isolated male BALB/c laboratory mice, Mus musculus, by size-exclusion chromatography into three pools. Pool I contained all of the urinary proteins and their bound ligands while pools II and III contained lower molecular weight components including unbound signalling volatiles. In experiment 1, pools I-III were streaked out on to absorbent paper (Benchkote) and introduced into enclosures housing single wild-caught male mice, together with a clean control surface. Each male was tested with fresh stimuli and with aged stimuli deposited 24 h previously. Only pool I stimulated significantly more countermarking and investigation than the control, attracting mice to investigate from a distance even when the rate of ligand release was considerably reduced after 24 h. Experiment 2 examined responses to pool I when this was fresh, aged by 7 days, or had been mixed with menadione to displace ligands from the proteins. Although all three protein stimuli were investigated and countermarked more than a clean control, the aged and menadione-treated pool I stimulated the strongest responses, despite containing the lowest levels of thiazole and brevicomin. Thus competitive countermarking is stimulated by proteins or by nonvolatile protein-ligand complexes in male urine, while release of volatile ligands attracts attention to a competitor's scent marks.