Vomeronasal Versus Olfactory Epithelium: Is There a Cellular Basis for Human Vomeronasal Perception?

Department of Anatomy, University of Technology Dresden, Dresden, Germany.
International Review of Cytology (Impact Factor: 9). 02/2006; 248:209-59. DOI: 10.1016/S0074-7696(06)48004-9
Source: PubMed


The vomeronasal organ (VNO) constitutes an accessory olfactory organ that receives chemical stimuli, pheromones, which elicit behavioral, reproductive, or neuroendocrine responses among individuals of the same species. In many macrosmatic animals, the morphological substrate constitutes a separate organ system consisting of a vomeronasal duct (ductus vomeronasalis, VND), equipped with chemosensory cells, and a vomeronasal nerve (nervus vomeronasalis, VNN) conducting information into the accessory olfactory bulb (AOB) in the central nervous system (CNS). Recent data require that the long-accepted dual functionality of a main olfactory system and the VNO be reexamined, since all species without a VNO are nevertheless sexually active, and species possessing a VNO also can sense other than "vomeronasal" stimuli via the vomeronasal epithelium (VNE). The human case constitutes a borderline situation, as its embryonic VNO anlage exerts a developmental track common to most macrosmatics, but later typical structures such as the VNN, AOB, and probably most of the chemoreceptor cells within the still existent VND are lost. This review also presents recent information on the VND including immunohistochemical expression of neuronal markers, intermediate filaments, lectins, integrins, caveolin, CD44, and aquaporins. Further, we will address the issue of human pheromone candidates.

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Available from: Martin Witt
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    • "Within the past 3 decades, the human vomeronasal organ (VNO) has been considered either absent (Wyatt, 2009) or both present and functional (Monti-Bloch et al., 1998). Even if these organs are not functional chemosensory structures in adult humans, as asserted by most authors to date (e.g., Bhatnagar and Smith, 2001, 2010; Meredith, 2001; Witt et al., 2002; Halpern and Mart ınez-Marcos, 2003; Wysocki and Preti, 2004; Witt and Hummel, 2006; Mast and Samuelsen, 2009), the nature of their reduction is still uncertain. The human VNO would on one hand be an atavism—an aberrant structure that is only occasionally observed; that at one time was present in all members of our lineage (Hall, 2002). "
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    ABSTRACT: Humans and most of our closest extant relatives, the anthropoids, are notable for their reduced “snout.” The striking reduction in facial projection is only a superficial similarity. All anthropoids, including those with long faces (e.g., baboons), have lost numerous internal projections (turbinals) and spaces (recesses). In sum, this equates to the loss of certain regions of olfactory mucosa in anthropoids. In addition, an accessory olfactory organ, the vomeronasal organ, is non-functional or even absent in all catarrhine primates (humans, apes, monkeys). In this commentary, we revisit the concept of anatomical reductions as it pertains to the anthropoid nasal region. Certain nasal structures and spaces in anthropoids exhibit well-known attributes of other known vestiges, such as variability in form or number. The cupular recess (a vestige of the olfactory recess) and some rudimentary ethmoturbinals constitute reduced structures that presumably were fully functional in our ancestors. Humans and at least some apes retain a vestige that is bereft of chemosensory function (while in catarrhine monkeys it is completely absent). However, the function of the vomeronasal system also includes prenatal roles, which may be common to most or all mammals. Notably, neurons migrate to the brain along vomeronasal and terminal nerve axons during embryogenesis. The time-specific role of the VNO raises the possibility that our concept of functional reduction is too static. The vomeronasal system of humans and other catarrhine primates appears to qualify as a “chronological” vestige, one which fulfills part of its function during ontogeny, and then becomes lost or vestigial. Anat Rec, 297:2196–2204, 2014. © 2014 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
    Full-text · Article · Nov 2014 · The Anatomical Record Advances in Integrative Anatomy and Evolutionary Biology
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    • "Another family of genes involved in chemosensation in animals are the vomeronasal type 1 receptors, a multigene family (Dulac and Axel, 1995; Liberles and Buck, 2006) that is expressed in an accessory olfactory region in the nose called the vomeronasal organ, which is thought to be vestigial in humans (Young et al., 2010). These genes are thought to have degenerated through evolution; for example, there are only five of these genes that retain an intact open reading frame in the human genome (Witt and Hummel, 2006). Finally, formyl peptide receptors are candidate chemosensory receptors that might be involved in the detection of normal bacterial flora or mitochondrial proteins in lower animals (Rodriguez and Mombaerts, 2002). "
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    ABSTRACT: The olfactory system is an essential part of human physiology, with a rich evolutionary history. Although humans are less dependent on chemosensory input than are other mammals (Niimura 2009, Hum. Genomics 4:107-118), olfactory function still plays a critical role in health and behavior. The detection of hazards in the environment, generating feelings of pleasure, promoting adequate nutrition, influencing sexuality, and maintenance of mood are described roles of the olfactory system, while other novel functions are being elucidated. A growing body of evidence has implicated a role for olfaction in such diverse physiologic processes as kin recognition and mating (Jacob et al. 2002a, Nat. Genet. 30:175-179; Horth 2007, Genomics 90:159-175; Havlicek and Roberts 2009, Psychoneuroendocrinology 34:497-512), pheromone detection (Jacob et al. 200b, Horm. Behav. 42:274-283; Wyart et al. 2007, J. Neurosci. 27:1261-1265), mother-infant bonding (Doucet et al. 2009, PLoS One 4:e7579), food preferences (Mennella et al. 2001, Pediatrics 107:E88), central nervous system physiology (Welge-Lüssen 2009, B-ENT 5:129-132), and even longevity (Murphy 2009, JAMA 288:2307-2312). The olfactory system, although phylogenetically ancient, has historically received less attention than other special senses, perhaps due to challenges related to its study in humans. In this article, we review the anatomic pathways of olfaction, from peripheral nasal airflow leading to odorant detection, to epithelial recognition of these odorants and related signal transduction, and finally to central processing. Olfactory dysfunction, which can be defined as conductive, sensorineural, or central (typically related to neurodegenerative disorders), is a clinically significant problem, with a high burden on quality of life that is likely to grow in prevalence due to demographic shifts and increased environmental exposures. Clin. Anat., 2013. © 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
    Preview · Article · Jan 2014 · Clinical Anatomy
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    • "Remarkably, exposure to MHC peptide ligands activated specific brain regions, indicating that humans, despite lacking a functional vomeronasal organ [45], possess the sensory facility to recognize the presence of MHC-associated olfactory cues. It is possible therefore that peptides activate sensory neurons located in the main olfactory epithelium, as was observed in mice [25]. "
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    ABSTRACT: In many animal species, social communication and mate choice are influenced by cues encoded by the major histocompatibility complex (MHC). The mechanism by which the MHC influences sexual selection is a matter of intense debate. In mice, peptide ligands of MHC molecules activate subsets of vomeronasal and olfactory sensory neurons and influence social memory formation; in sticklebacks, such peptides predictably modify the outcome of mate choice. Here, we examine whether this evolutionarily conserved mechanism of interindividual communication extends to humans. In psychometric tests, volunteers recognized the supplementation of their body odour by MHC peptides and preferred 'self' to 'non-self' ligands when asked to decide whether the modified odour smelled 'like themselves' or 'like their favourite perfume'. Functional magnetic resonance imaging indicated that 'self'-peptides specifically activated a region in the right middle frontal cortex. Our results suggest that despite the absence of a vomeronasal organ, humans have the ability to detect and evaluate MHC peptides in body odour. This may provide a basis for the sensory evaluation of potential partners during human mate choice.
    Full-text · Article · Feb 2013 · Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
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