Do all mice smell the same? Chemosensory cues from inbred and wild mouse strains elicit stereotypic sensory representations in the accessory olfactory bulb

Rohini Bansal, Maximilian Nagel, Romana Stopkova, Yizhak Sofer, Tali Kimchi, Pavel Stopka, Marc Spehr, Yoram Ben-Shaul

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


BACKGROUND: For many animals, chemosensory cues are vital for social and defensive interactions and are primarily detected and processed by the vomeronasal system (VNS). These cues are often inherently associated with ethological meaning, leading to stereotyped behaviors. Thus, one would expect consistent representation of these stimuli across different individuals. However, individuals may express different arrays of vomeronasal sensory receptors and may vary in the pattern of connections between those receptors and projection neurons in the accessory olfactory bulb (AOB). In the first part of this study, we address the ability of individuals to form consistent representations despite these potential sources of variability. The second part of our study is motivated by the fact that the majority of research on VNS physiology involves the use of stimuli derived from inbred animals. Yet, it is unclear whether neuronal representations of inbred-derived stimuli are similar to those of more ethologically relevant wild-derived stimuli. RESULTS: First, we compared sensory representations to inbred, wild-derived, and wild urine stimuli in the AOBs of males from two distinct inbred strains, using them as proxies for individuals. We found a remarkable similarity in stimulus representations across the two strains. Next, we compared AOB neuronal responses to inbred, wild-derived, and wild stimuli, again using male inbred mice as subjects. Employing various measures of neuronal activity, we show that wild-derived and wild stimuli elicit responses that are broadly similar to those from inbred stimuli: they are not considerably stronger or weaker, they show similar levels of sexual dimorphism, and when examining population-level activity, cluster with inbred mouse stimuli. CONCLUSIONS: Despite strain-specific differences and apparently random connectivity, the AOB can maintain stereotypic sensory representations for broad stimulus categories, providing a substrate for common stereotypical behaviors. In addition, despite many generations of inbreeding, AOB representations capture the key ethological features (i.e., species and sex) of wild-derived and wild counterparts. Beyond these broad similarities, representations of stimuli from wild mice are nevertheless distinct from those elicited by inbred mouse stimuli, suggesting that laboratory inbreeding has indeed resulted in marked modifications of urinary secretions.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)133
Number of pages1
JournalBMC Biology
Issue number1
StatePublished - 28 Jun 2021


  • Accessory olfactory bulb
  • Innate responses
  • Stimulus representations
  • Vomeronasal system
  • Wild mouse stimuli


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