The pheromone darcin drives a circuit for innate and reinforced behaviours

Ebru Demir, Kenneth Li, Natasha Bobrowski-Khoury, Joshua I. Sanders, Robert J. Beynon, Jane L. Hurst, Adam Kepecs, Richard Axel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

40 Scopus citations


Organisms have evolved diverse behavioural strategies that enhance the likelihood of encountering and assessing mates1. Many species use pheromones to communicate information about the location, sexual and social status of potential partners2. In mice, the major urinary protein darcin—which is present in the urine of males—provides a component of a scent mark that elicits approach by females and drives learning3,4. Here we show that darcin elicits a complex and variable behavioural repertoire that consists of attraction, ultrasonic vocalization and urinary scent marking, and also serves as a reinforcer in learning paradigms. We identify a genetically determined circuit—extending from the accessory olfactory bulb to the posterior medial amygdala—that is necessary for all behavioural responses to darcin. Moreover, optical activation of darcin-responsive neurons in the medial amygdala induces both the innate and the conditioned behaviours elicited by the pheromone. These neurons define a topographically segregated population that expresses neuronal nitric oxide synthase. We suggest that this darcin-activated neural circuit integrates pheromonal information with internal state to elicit both variable innate behaviours and reinforced behaviours that may promote mate encounters and mate selection.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)137-141
Number of pages5
Issue number7793
StatePublished - Feb 6 2020


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