Scent wars

Hurst, J.L. & Beynon, R.J. (2004) Scent Wars: The chemobiology of competitive signaling in mice. BioEssays 26, 1288-1298 [PUBMED] [PDF]

Many mammals use scent marks to advertise territory ownership, but only recently have we started to understand the complexity of these scent signals and the types of information they convey. Whilst attention has generally focused on volatile odorants as the main information molecules in scents, studies of the house mouse have now defined a role for a family of proteins termed major urinary proteins (MUPs) which are, of course, involatile. MUPs bind male signalling volatiles and control their release from scent marks. These proteins are also highly polymorphic and the pattern of polymorphic variants provides a stable ownership signal that communicates genome-derived information on the individual identity of the scent owner. Here we review the interaction between the chemical basis of mouse scents and the dynamics of their competitive scent marking behaviour, demonstrating how it is possible to provide reliable signals of the competitive ability and identity of individual males.