Combinatorial effects of odorants on mouse behavior

Luis Miguel Rodrigues Saraiva, Kunio Kondoh, Xiaolan Ye, Kyoung Hye Yoon, Marcus Hernandez, Linda B. Buck

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

40 Citations (Scopus)


The mechanisms by which odors induce instinctive behaviors are largely unknown. Odor detection in the mouse nose is mediated by >1, 000 different odorant receptors (ORs) and trace amine-associated receptors (TAARs). Odor perceptions are encoded combinatorially by ORs and can be altered by slight changes in the combination of activated receptors. However, the stereotyped nature of instinctive odor responses suggests the involvement of specific receptors and genetically programmed neural circuits relatively immune to extraneous odor stimuli and receptor inputs. Here, we report that, contrary to expectation, innate odor-induced behaviors can be context-dependent. First, different ligands for a given TAAR can vary in behavioral effect. Second, when combined, some attractive and aversive odorants neutralize one another's behavioral effects. Both a TAAR ligand and a common odorant block aversion to a predator odor, indicating that this ability is not unique to TAARs and can extend to an aversive response of potential importance to survival. In vitro testing of single receptors with binary odorant mixtures indicates that behavioral blocking can occur without receptor antagonism in the nose. Moreover, genetic ablation of a single receptor prevents its cognate ligand from blocking predator odor aversion, indicating that the blocking requires sensory input from the receptor. Together, these findings indicate that innate odor-induced behaviors can depend on context, that signals from a single receptor can block innate odor aversion, and that instinctive behavioral responses to odors can be modulated by interactions in the brain among signals derived from different receptors.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)E3300-E3306
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number23
Publication statusPublished - 7 Jun 2016



  • Behavior
  • Odorants
  • Olfaction
  • TAAR

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General

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