Robust Sex and Strain Discrimination in the Mouse Vomeronasal Organ and Accessory Olfactory Bulb

Date of Award

Spring 5-15-2014

Author's School

Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Author's Department

Biology & Biomedical Sciences (Neurosciences)

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Type



Animals rely on olfactory cues to guide their courtship and territorial behavior. In rodents, detecting these cues is the primary role of the accessory olfactory system (AOS). We sought to systematically investigate the natural stimulus coding logic and robustness in neurons of the first two stages of accessory olfactory processing, the vomeronasal organ (VNO) and accessory olfactory bulb (AOB). We show that firing rate responses of just a few well-chosen VNO and AOB neurons can use a combinatorial coding strategy to reliably encode both sex and strain of other mice from cues contained in urine. When challenged with multiple urine concentrations, both AOB and VNO ensembles were still able to accurately code for sex and strain. We show that this population code can generalize to new concentrations of stimuli and appears to encode identity by representing different stimuli as diverging paths in coding space. Taken together, the results indicate that ring rate code on the temporal order of seconds is sufficient for accurate classification of pheromonal patterns at different concentrations and can be utilized by AOS neural circuitry to discriminate among naturally-occurring urine stimuli.


English (en)

Chair and Committee

Timothy E Holy

Committee Members

Andreas H Burkhalter, Robert W Gereau, Daniel W Moran, Baranidharan Raman, Lawrence H Snyder


Permanent URL: https://doi.org/10.7936/K7NZ85MZ

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