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Identification and Field Testing of Volatile Components in the Sex Attractant Pheromone Blend of Female House Mice

Varner, Elana, Gries, Regine, Takács, Stephen, Fan, Stephanie, Gries, Gerhard
Journal of chemical ecology 2019 v.45 no.1 pp. 18-27
Mus musculus, Rattus norvegicus, adults, butyric acid, communications technology, estradiol, feces, females, field experimentation, gas chromatography-mass spectrometry, headspace analysis, juveniles, laboratory experimentation, males, mice, progesterone, rats, sex pheromones, steroids, testosterone, urine, volatile compounds
Recently, it was reported (i) that the sex pheromone blend of male house mice, Mus musculus, comprises not only volatile components (3,4-dehydro-exo-brevicomin; 2-sec-butyl-4,5-dihydrothiazole) but also a component of low volatility (the sex steroid testosterone), and (ii) that the sex steroids progesterone and estradiol are sex pheromone components of female house mice. Here we tested the hypothesis that the sex attractant pheromone blend of female mice, analogous to that of male mice, also comprises volatile pheromone components. Analyzing by GC-MS the head space volatiles of bedding soiled with urine and feces of laboratory-kept females and males revealed three candidate pheromone components (CPCs) that were adult female-specific: butyric acid, 2-methyl butyric acid and 4-heptanone. In a two-choice laboratory experiment, adult males spent significantly more time in the treatment chamber baited with both the synthetic steroids (progesterone, estradiol) and the synthetic CPCs than in the paired control chamber baited only with the synthetic steroids. In field experiments, trap boxes baited with both the CPCs and the steroids captured 6.7-times more adult males and 4.7-times more juvenile males than trap boxes baited with the steroids alone. Conversely, trap boxes baited with both the CPCs and the steroids captured 4.3-times more adult males and 2.7-fold fewer adult females than trap boxes baited with the CPCs alone. In combination, these data support the conclusion that butyric acid, 2-methyl butyric acid and 4-heptanone are part of the sex attractant pheromone of female house mice. With progesterone and estradiol being pheromone components of both female brown rats, Rattus norvegicus, and female house mice, these three volatile components could impart specificity to the sexual communication system of house mice, brown rats and possibly other rodent species.