The major histocompatibility complex and the chemosensory recognition of individuality in rats

R E Brown, P B Singh, B Roser

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

129 Citations (Scopus)


The present experiments provide the first evidence that congenic strains of rats, which differ only in the MHC, produce discriminably different urinary chemosignals. Urine from adult male PVG and PVG.R1 rats, which differ only in the A region (class 1) of the MHC, was used in a habituation-dishabituation task, with male PVG-RTlu, Wistar albino, and Lister hooded rats as subjects. Urine from PVG males was easily distinguished from that of PVG.R1 males by all three strains. Individual PVG males were not distinguished by their urine odours, but individual PVG.R1 males appeared to have discriminably different odours. A repetition of this experiment indicated that this discrimination may have been due to impurities in the urine. Odours from serum were not sufficient for discrimination between the two strains, nor was the class 1 molecule purified from the urine. Urine with the class 1 molecule removed (remainder fraction) could, however, be used to distinguish between the strains. The chemicals in the urine which give this distinctive odour may be fragments of the class 1 molecule or small molecules associated with the class 1 molecule. The MHC appears to control the odour cues which are used by mammals for individual recognition and may provide an olfactory basis for kin recognition but the mechanism by which the MHC controls these olfactory signals is unknown.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)65-73
Number of pages9
JournalPhysiology and Behavior
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1987


  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal
  • Discrimination (Psychology)
  • Habituation, Psychophysiologic
  • Histocompatibility Antigens
  • Major Histocompatibility Complex
  • Male
  • Odorants
  • Rats
  • Rats, Inbred Strains
  • Smell
  • Species Specificity
  • Urine
  • Journal Article
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

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