Romeo, Romeo, 'whiff'-fore art thou, Romeo?

Sarah A. Roberts, Amanda J. Davidson, Lynn McLean, Robert J. Beynon, Jane L. Hurst (2012) Pheromonal Induction of Spatial Learning in Mice. Science 338, 1462-1465 [PUBMED] [PDF]

Abstract: Many mammals use scent marking for sexual and competitive advertisement, but little is known about the mechanism by which scents are used to locate mates and competitors. We show that darcin, an involatile protein sex pheromone in male mouse urine, can rapidly condition preference for its remembered location among females and competitor males so that animals prefer to spend time in the site even when scent is absent. Learned spatial preference is conditioned through contact with darcin in a single trial and remembered for approximately 14 days. This pheromone-induced learning allows animals to relocate sites of particular social relevance and provides proof that pheromones such as darcin can be highly potent stimuli for social learning.

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Female sexual attraction to male urine scent marks and conditioned place preference. After confirming no side bias (no urine), female mice were given test urine versus water in two dishes in 10-min daily learning sessions (L1 to L3). CPP was tested 24 hours later with no urine present (24-hour memory). Females were given (A, B, and C) unfamiliar male or (D) female urine for three [(A) n = 10 subjects], two [(B) n = 12 subjects] or one [(C) and (D) n = 12 subjects] learning sessions. Greater time spent in the urine (blue bars) versus control dish (yellow bars) was assessed using one-tailed paired t tests (data log transformed to meet parametric assumptions): *P < 0.05, **P < 0.01, ***P < 0.005, ****P < 0.001. Circles show matched-pair difference in time spent in test minus control dish. Data are means ± SEM.