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The Journal of Experimental Biology








The electrophysiological basis of chemical communication in the specialized olfactory division of the vomeronasal (VN) organ is poorly understood. In total, 198 patch-clamp recordings were made from 42 animals (Sternotherus odoratus, the stinkpot/musk turtle) to study the electrically and chemically activated properties of VN neurons. The introduction of tetramethylrhodamine-conjugated dextran into the VN orifice permitted good visualization of the vomeronasal neural epithelium prior to dissociating it into single neurons. Basic electrical properties of the neurons were measured (resting potential, -54.5 +/- 2.7 mV, N=11; input resistance, 6.7 +/- 1.4 G Omega, N=25; capacitance, 4.2 +/- 0.3 pF, N=22; means +/- S.E.M.). The voltage-gated K(+) current inactivation rate was significantly slower in VN neurons from males than in those from females, and K(+) currents in males were less sensitive (greater K(i)) to tetraethylammonium. Vomeronasal neurons were held at a holding potential of -60 mV and tested for their response to five natural chemicals, female urine, male urine, female musk, male musk and catfish extract. Of the 90 VN neurons tested, 33 (34 %) responded to at least one of the five compounds. The peak amplitude of chemically evoked currents ranged from 4 to 180 pA, with two-thirds of responses less than 25 pA. Urine-evoked currents were of either polarity, whereas musk and catfish extract always elicited only inward currents. Urine applied to neurons harvested from female animals evoked currents that were 2-3 times larger than those elicited from male neurons. Musk-evoked inward currents were three times the magnitude of urine- or catfish-extract-evoked inward currents. The calculated breadth of responsiveness for neurons presented with this array of five chemicals indicated that the mean response spectrum of the VN neurons is narrow (H metric 0.11). This patch-clamp study indicates that VN neurons exhibit sexual dimorphism in function and specificity in response to complex natural chemicals.iol


PMID:16651557 | PMCID:PMC2779218

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