Signal detection and coding in the accessory olfactory system

Julia Mohrhardt, Maximilian Nagel, David Fleck, Yoram Ben-Shaul, Marc Spehr*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

66 Scopus citations


In many mammalian species, the accessory olfactory system plays a central role in guiding behavioral and physiological responses to social and reproductive interactions. Because of its relatively compact structure and its direct access to amygdalar and hypothalamic nuclei, the accessory olfactory pathway provides an ideal system to study sensory control of complex mammalian behavior. During the last several years, many studies employing molecular, behavioral, and physiological approaches have significantly expanded and enhanced our understanding of this system. The purpose of the current review is to integrate older and newer studies to present an updated and comprehensive picture of vomeronasal signaling and coding with an emphasis on early accessory olfactory system processing stages. These include vomeronasal sensory neurons in the vomeronasal organ, and the circuitry of the accessory olfactory bulb. Because the overwhelming majority of studies on accessory olfactory system function employ rodents, this review is largely focused on this phylogenetic order, and on mice in particular. Taken together, the emerging view from both older literature and more recent studies is that the molecular, cellular, and circuit properties of chemosensory signaling along the accessory olfactory pathway are in many ways unique. Yet, it has also become evident that, like the main olfactory system, the accessory olfactory system also has the capacity for adaptive learning, experience, and state-dependent plasticity. In addition to describing what is currently known about accessory olfactory system function and physiology, we highlight what we believe are important gaps in our knowledge, which thus define exciting directions for future investigation.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)667-695
Number of pages29
JournalChemical Senses
Issue number9
StatePublished - 1 Nov 2018

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 The Author(s).


  • accessory olfactory bulb
  • accessory olfactory system
  • pheromones
  • social behavior
  • vomeronasal organ
  • vomeronasal sensory neurons


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