Molecular architecture of pheromone sensing in mammals
The neuronal processing of pheromone signals within distinctive brain structures leads to marked changes in animal behaviour and endocrine status. The highly reproducible and species-specific character of the response to pheromones offers a unique opportunity to uncover the neural basis of genetically pre-programmed behaviours. Molecular and genetic investigation of the mechanisms underlying pheromone pheromone-evoked responses in the mouse nose and brain have revealed a neural strategy that is strikingly different from that used in other chemosensory modalities such as taste and olfaction. Our studies have provided novel insights into the sensory coding of pheromone signals leading to gender identification and aggressive behaviour, and into the developmental mechanisms leading to the emergence of distinct olfactory pathways. Our most recent experiments using conditional and GFP-expressing viral vectors are aimed at visualizing entire brain circuits responsible for innate behaviours.