Sex-Specific Differences in Olfactory Sensitivity for Putative Human Pheromones in Nonhuman Primates

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Abstract

In humans, the volatile C19-steroids androsta-4,16-dien-3-one (AND) and estra-1,3,5(10),16-tetraen-3-ol (EST) have been shown to modulate autonomic nervous system responses, and to cause hypothalamic activation in a gender-specific manner. Using two conditioning paradigms, the authors here show that pigtail macaques and squirrel monkeys of both sexes were able to detect AND and EST at concentrations in the micromolar and mM range, respectively. Male and female spider monkeys, in contrast, differed markedly in their sensitivity to these two odorous steroids, with males not showing any behavioral responses to the highest concentrations of AND tested and females not responding to the highest concentrations of EST. These data provide the first examples of sex-specific bimodal distributions of olfactory sensitivity in a nonhuman primate species.

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