Dual processing of sulfated steroids in the olfactory system of an anuran amphibian

Alfredo Sansone, Thomas Hassenklöver, Thomas Offner, Xiaoyan Fu, Timothy E. Holy, Ivan Manzini

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


Chemical communication is widespread in amphibians, but if compared to later diverging tetrapods the available functional data is limited. The existing information on the vomeronasal system ofanurans is particularly sparse. Amphibians representatransitional stage in the evolution ofthe olfactory system. Most species have anatomically separated main and vomeronasal systems, but recent studies have shown that in anurans their molecular separation is still underway. Sulfated steroids function as migratory pheromones in lamprey and have recently been identified as natural vomeronasal stimuli in rodents. Here we identified sulfated steroids as the first known class of vomeronasal stimuli in the amphibian Xenopus laevis. We show that sulfated steroids are detected and concurrently processed by the two distinct olfactory subsystems of larval Xenopus laevis, the main olfactory system and the vomeronasal system. Our data revealed a similar but partially different processing of steroid-induced responses in the two systems. Differences of detection thresholds suggest that the two information channels are not just redundant, but rather signal different information. Furthermore, we found that larval and adult animals excrete multiple sulfated compounds with physical properties consistent with sulfated steroids. Breeding tadpole and frog water including these compounds activated a large subset of sensory neurons that also responded to synthetic steroids, showing that sulfated steroids are likely to convey intraspecific information. Our findings indicate that sulfated steroids are conserved vomeronasal stimuli functioning in phylogenetically distant classes of tetrapods living in aquatic and terrestrial habitats.

Original languageEnglish
JournalFrontiers in Cellular Neuroscience
Issue numberSeptember
StatePublished - Sep 23 2015


  • Intraspecific chemical communication
  • Main olfactory system
  • Pipidae
  • Vomeronasal system
  • Xenopus laevis


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