When the Nose Must Remain Responsive: Glutathione Conjugation of the Mammary Pheromone in the Newborn Rabbit

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In insects, xenobiotic-metabolizing enzymes were demonstrated to regulate pheromones inactivation, clearing them from the olfactory periphery and keeping receptors ready for stimulation renewal. Here, we investigate whether similar processes could occur in mammals, focusing on the pheromonal communication between female rabbits and their newborns. Lactating rabbits emit in their milk a volatile aldehyde, 2-methylbut-2-enal, that elicits searching-grasping in neonates; called the mammary pheromone (MP), it is critical for pups which are constrained to find nipples within the 5min of daily nursing. For newborns, it is thus essential to remain sensitive to this odorant during the whole nursing period to display several actions of sucking. Here, we show that the MP is enzymatically conjugated to glutathione in newborn olfactory epithelium (OE), in accordance with the high mRNA expression of glutathione transferases evidenced by quantitative reverse transcription–PCR. This activity in the nose is higher than in the liver and in OE of newborns compared with weanlings (no more responsive to the pheromone). Therefore, the results pinpoint the existence of a high level of MP-glutathione conjugation activity in the OE of young rabbits, especially in the developmental window where the perceptual sensitivity toward the MP is crucial for survival.

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