new study co-authored by Robert Lane, assistant professor of molecular
biology and biochemistry, suggests that human
pheromone detection may occur right under our own noses - literally.
In an article due out in
the February issue of "Genome Research," Lane provided new
evidence that scientists may have overestimated the use of the vomeronasal
organ, or VNO, in pheromone perception in animals. The VNO has been
described as the predominant pheromone-detecting organ, based mostly on
rodent studies that point to its role in evoking innate reproductive and
Lane, along with Wesleyan
graduate student Marijo Kambere and his colleagues from the Fred Hutchinson
Cancer Research Center in Seattle, Washington, discovered that one of the
main putative pheromone receptor families expressed inside the VNO has been
decimated in domesticated dogs. This finding suggests that the VNO may play
a diminished role in dogs and perhaps other non-rodent mammals.
"As keen as the dog sense
of smell is and as elaborate a pheromonal system dogs seem to have, it could
be that the main nose, not the VNO, underlies elaborate pheromonal
communication in dogs," Lane said.
If this is true, then the
observation that humans probably do not possess a functional VNO may not
mean an inability to detect pheromones.
"Our apparent lack of a functional VNO
might not be a handicap if pheromone responses can be mediated by our main
olfactory system," Lane said.