Although absent in humans, the vomeronasal organ (VNO) plays a central role in controlling reproductive and social behavior in most mammals. Vomeronasal sensory neurons detect pheromones and other molecules that carry information about gender, sexual and social status, dominance hierarchy, and individuality, but it has been very difficult to define the molecular nature of these signals. Leinders-Zufall et al. show that major histocompatibility complex (MHC) class I peptides can activate selective VNO neurons in the basal layer of the VNO. Recognition of peptides by vomeronasal sensory neurons is independent of MHC haplotype. Peptides specific for different MHC molecules generate distinctive neural activation patterns that provide the basis for the neural representation of the structural diversity of this family of chemosignals.
T. Leinders-Zufall, P. Brennan, P. Widmayer, P. Chandramani S., A. Maul-Pavicic, M. Jäger, X.-H. Li, H. Breer, F. Zufall, T. Boehm, MHC class I peptides as chemosensory signals in the vomeronasal organ. Science 306, 1033-1037 (2004). [Abstract] [Full Text]