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Olfactory subsystems in mammals: The vomeronasal organ VNO is functional in most terrestrial mammals, though progressively reduced in the primate lineage, and is used for intraspecific communication and predator recognition. However, recently a large number of VRs were reported to be expressed in the main olfactory epithelium MOE of mice, but there is little knowledge of the expression of these genes outside of rodents.
We furthermore compared expression patterns in adults of both sexes and seasons, and in an infant. The repertoire in the infant was as rich as in adults, indicating reliance on olfactory communication from early postnatal development onwards. In summary, the large VR repertoire in mouse lemurs seems to be highly functional.
Given the differences in the neural pathways of MOE and VNO signals, which project to higher cortical brain centers or the limbic system, respectively, this raises the intriguing possibility that the evolution of MOE-expression of VRs enabled mouse lemurs to adaptively diversify the processing of VR-encoded olfactory information.
Most terrestrial mammals use two olfactory systems, the main olfactory system based on the main olfactory epithelium MOE and the accessory olfactory system based on the vomeronasal organ VNO. The MOE has traditionally been considered to detect small odorants and a few pheromones Restrepo et al. Two types of vomeronasal receptors VRs are described which have been thought to be primarily expressed in the VNO based on studies in rodents: The two receptor types seem to be specialized for ligands of different size: V1R s bind smaller molecules Leinders-Zufall et al.
The broader pattern of expression is yet unclear and a few cells of the MOE in mice and goats express single V1R s Wakabayashi et al. In primates it was observed that the size of the VNO correlates with its functionality: V1R repertoires in strepsirrhine primates 78— estimated genes are as large as in rodents 89— estimated genes, Young et al. Strepsirrhine primates are ideal to study the vomeronasal system in non-model species as they heavily rely on olfactory communication Jolly, ; Perret, ; Buesching et al.