Toxic puffers contain the potent neurotoxin, tetrodotoxin (TTX). Although TTX is considered to serve as a defense substance, previous behavioral studies have demonstrated that TTX acts as an attractive pheromone for some toxic puffers. To elucidate the physiological mechanism of putative pheromonal action of TTX, we examined whether grass puffers Takifugu alboplumbeus can detect TTX. Electroolfactogram (EOG) results suggest that the olfactory epithelium (OE) of grass puffers responded to a type of TTX analog (5,6,11-trideoxyTTX), although it did not respond to TTX. We also examined the attractive action of 5,6,11-trideoxyTTX on grass puffers by recording their swimming behavior under dark conditions. Grass puffers preferred to stay on the side of the aquarium where 5,6,11-trideoxyTTX was administered, and their swimming speed decreased. Additionally, odorant-induced labeling of olfactory sensory neurons by immunohistochemistry against neural activity marker (phosphorylated extracellular signal regulated kinase; pERK) revealed that labeled olfactory sensory neurons were localized in the region surrounding “islets” where there was considered as nonsensory epithelium. 5,6,11-trideoxyTTX has been known to accumulate in grass puffers, but its toxicity is much lower (almost nontoxic) than TTX. Our results suggest that toxic puffers may positively use this TTX analog, which has been present in their body with TTX but whose function was unknown, as an odorant for chemical communication or effective TTX accumulation.
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