Deciphering the chemical language of inbred and wild mouse conspecific scents

Maximilian Nagel, Marco Niestroj, Rohini Bansal, David Fleck, Angelika Lampert, Romana Stopkova, Pavel Stopka, Yoram Ben-Shaul, Marc Spehr

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

In most mammals, conspecific chemosensory communication relies on semiochemical release within complex bodily secretions and subsequent stimulus detection by the vomeronasal organ (VNO). Urine, a rich source of ethologically relevant chemosignals, conveys detailed information about sex, social hierarchy, health, and reproductive state, which becomes accessible to a conspecific via vomeronasal sampling. So far, however, numerous aspects of social chemosignaling along the vomeronasal pathway remain unclear. Moreover, since virtually all research on vomeronasal physiology is based on secretions derived from inbred laboratory mice, it remains uncertain whether such stimuli provide a true representation of potentially more relevant cues found in the wild. Here, we combine a robust low-noise VNO activity assay with comparative molecular profiling of sex- and strain-specific mouse urine samples from two inbred laboratory strains as well as from wild mice. With comprehensive molecular portraits of these secretions, VNO activity analysis now enables us to (i) assess whether and, if so, how much sex/strain-selective 'raw' chemical information in urine is accessible via vomeronasal sampling; (ii) identify which chemicals exhibit sufficient discriminatory power to signal an animal's sex, strain, or both; (iii) determine the extent to which wild mouse secretions are unique; and (iv) analyze whether vomeronasal response profiles differ between strains. We report both sex- and, in particular, strain-selective VNO representations of chemical information. Within the urinary 'secretome', both volatile compounds and proteins exhibit sufficient discriminative power to provide sex- and strain-specific molecular fingerprints. While total protein amount is substantially enriched in male urine, females secrete a larger variety at overall comparatively low concentrations. Surprisingly, the molecular spectrum of wild mouse urine does not dramatically exceed that of inbred strains. Finally, vomeronasal response profiles differ between C57BL/6 and BALB/c animals, with particularly disparate representations of female semiochemicals.

Original languageAmerican English
JournaleLife
Volume12
DOIs
StatePublished - 15 May 2024

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023, Nagel et al.

Keywords

  • biochemistry
  • chemical biology
  • chemosensory system
  • chemosignaling
  • mouse
  • neuroscience
  • olfaction
  • vomeronasal organ
  • vomeronasal sensory neurons

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