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Pheromones: Female Mice Can Only Mate When They Smell Their Partners

First Posted: Jun 05, 2015 06:04 PM EDT

Does our sense of smell have anything to do with sexual attraction? New findings published in the journal Cell show that that it does, at least, for mice. 

Researchers at The Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla found that when female mice are at a stage in ovulation in which they are not ready to mate, their hormones (specifically progesterone) block their ability to properly sense the smell of male pheromones. During ovulation, these hormones do begin to diminish. However, once the cycle ends again, this once again renders them "odor-blind" to males.

"Here we find--in the mouse--that the nose is not simply a sense organ, passively vacuuming up all stimuli and transmitting that information to the brain," said senior author Lisa Stowers of the Department of Molecular and Cellular Neuroscience at The Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, in a news release. "Instead, hormonal signals from the body act directly on the nose to make a decision about what information to send to the brain. It is quite surprising that the nose, and not the brain, would be making such important decisions."

While humans are not typically known to detect pheromones like animals, researchers hope to investigate whether human olfactory neurons are somewhat similar in the sense of internally circulating hormones.

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