The mammalian vomeronasal organ detects complex chemical signals that convey information about gender, strain, and the social and reproductive status of an individual. How these signals are encoded is poorly understood. We developed transgenic mice expressing the calcium indicator G-CaMP2 and analyzed population responses of vomeronasal neurons to urine from individual animals. A substantial portion of cells was activated by either male or female urine, but only a small population of cells responded exclusively to gender-specific cues shared across strains and individuals. Female cues activated more cells and were subject to more complex hormonal regulations than male cues. In contrast to gender, strain and individual information was encoded by the combinatorial activation of neurons such that urine from different individuals activated distinctive cell populations.
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