Olfactory fingerprints for major histocompatibility complex-determined body odors II: Relationship among odor maps, genetics, odor composition, and behavior

Michele L. Schaefer, Kunio Yamazaki, Kazumi Osada, Diego Restrepo, Gary K. Beauchamp

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


The olfactory system detects small differences in the composition of natural odorants, made up of hundreds of molecules. Odorous quality is hypothetically represented by a combinatorial code: Activation of distinct but overlapping subsets of olfactory receptors resulting in activation of a distinct subset of glomeruli in the main olfactory bulb (MOB). Here we show that modification of a single gene (the K gene of the major histocompatibility locus), which results in a subtle change in the odiferous quality of urine, causes a small but significant change in the composition of urine volatiles and consequently the evoked glomerular activation pattern in the MOB. The magnitude of disparity between urine-evoked glomerular activation patterns is predictive of the extent of (1) the genetic difference among the urine donors, (2) the difference in the chemical composition of urine, and (3) the odor detector's ability to discriminate. These data on natural odors are consistent with the combinatorial code hypothesis and identify subsets of glomeruli that are apt to play a significant role in mediating individual recognition.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)9513-9521
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number21
StatePublished - Nov 1 2002



  • Coding
  • Major histocompatibility complex
  • Olfactory
  • Recognition
  • Urine
  • c-fos

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)

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