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This study was aimed at identifying sex pheromones of the rat (Rattus norvegicus). We characterized the volatiles and semivolatiles of rat preputial gland and voided urine by using gas chromatography–mass spectrometry (GC–MS) and quantified them by their GC areas (abundances) and percentage of GC areas (relative abundances). Although all the compounds other than 4-heptanone and phenol detected were shared by males and females, the quantities for some of these sex-common compounds exhibited sexual dimorphism and decreased with gonadectomy. Thus, these compounds might be sex pheromones. Among them, squalene from preputial glands and 2-heptanone and 4-ethyl phenol from urine were 3 major compounds. They were richer in males and could be suppressed by castration. Adding any of the 3 compounds (at a concentration higher than its physiological level in male urine) to castrated male urine (CMU) increased the attractiveness of CMU to sex-naive females. Adding the 3 together (at the levels in normal male urine) to CMU significantly increased the attractiveness of CMU to females. However, such combination did not fully restore females' preference for urine from intact males, suggesting that some other trace compounds such as 4-heptanone and phenol might also play some roles in sex attractiveness. Thus, squalene, 2-heptanone, and 4-ethyl phenol were indeed male pheromone molecules in rats. Our study also indicates that E,E-β-farnesene and E-α-farnesene, both richer in females than males, might be putative female pheromones.
Jian-Xu Zhang, Lixing Sun, Jin-Hua Zhang, Zhi-Yong Feng, Sex- and Gonad-Affecting Scent Compounds and 3 Male Pheromones in the Rat, Chemical Senses, Volume 33, Issue 7, September 2008, Pages 611–621, https://doi.org/10.1093/chemse/bjn028
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