Facts, fallacies, fears, and frustrations with human pheromones.
Among primates in general, pheromones are of variable importance to social communication. Data on humans have generated the greatest controversy regarding the existence of pheromonal communication. In this review, the likelihood of pheromonal communication in humans is assessed with a discussion of chemical compounds produced by the axilla that may function as pheromones; the likelihood that the vomeronasal organ (VNO), a putative pheromone receptor organ in many other mammals, is functional in humans; and the possible ways pheromones operate in humans. In the human axilla, the interactions between the cutaneous microflora and axillary secretions render this region analogous to scent glands found in other primates. Both the chemistry of axillary secretions and their effects on conspecifics in humans appear to be analogous to other mammalian pheromone systems. Whichever chemical compounds serve a pheromonal function in humans, another unknown is the receptor. Although the VNO has been implicated in the reception of pheromones in many vertebrates, it is not the only pathway through which such information has access to the central nervous system; there is ample evidence to support the view that the olfactory epithelium can respond to pheromones. Furthermore, if a chemical activates receptors within the VNO, this does not necessarily mean that the compound is a pheromone. An important caveat for humans is that critical components typically found within the functioning VNO of other, nonprimate, mammals are lacking, suggesting that the human VNO does not function in the way that has been described for other mammals. In a broader perspective, pheromones can be classified as primers, signalers, modulators, and releasers. There is good evidence to support the presence of the former three in humans. Examples include affects on the menstrual cycle (primer effects); olfactory recognition of newborn by its mother (signaler); individuals may exude different odors based on mood (suggestive of modulator effects). However, there is no good evidence for releaser effects in adult humans. It is emphasized that no bioassay-guided study has led to the isolation of true human pheromones, a step that will elucidate specific functions to human chemical signals. (+info)
What is a pheromone? Mammalian pheromones reconsidered.
Pheromone communication is a two-component system: signaling pheromones and receiving sensory neurons. Currently, pheromones remain enigmatic bioactive compounds, as only a few have been identified, but classical bioassays have suggested that they are nonvolatile, activate vomeronasal sensory neurons, and regulate innate social behaviors and neuroendocrine release. Recent discoveries of potential pheromones reveal that they may be more structurally and functionally diverse than previously defined. (+info)
The human brain is a detector of chemosensorily transmitted HLA-class I-similarity in same- and opposite-sex relations.
Studies on subjective body odour ratings suggest that humans exhibit preferences for human leucocyte antigen (HLA)-dissimilar persons. However, with regard to the extreme polymorphism of the HLA gene loci, the behavioural impact of the proposed HLA-related attracting signals seems to be minimal. Furthermore, the role of HLA-related chemosignals in same- and opposite-sex relations in humans has not been specified so far. Here, we investigate subjective preferences and brain evoked responses to body odours in males and females as a function of HLA similarity between odour donor and smeller. We show that pre-attentive processing of body odours of HLA-similar donors is faster and that late evaluative processing of these chemosignals activates more neuronal resources than the processing of body odours of HLA-dissimilar donors. In same-sex smelling conditions, HLA-associated brain responses show a different local distribution in male (frontal) and female subjects (parietal). The electrophysiological results are supported by significant correlations between the odour ratings and the amplitudes of the brain potentials. We conclude that odours of HLA-similar persons function as important social warning signals in inter- and intrasexual human relations. Such HLA-related chemosignals may contribute to female and male mate choice as well as to male competitive behaviour. (+info)
Smelling a single component of male sweat alters levels of cortisol in women.
Rodents use chemosignals to alter endocrine balance in conspecifics. Although responses to human sweat suggest a similar mechanism in humans, no particular component of human sweat capable of altering endocrine balance in conspecifics has yet been isolated and identified. Here, we measured salivary levels of the hormone cortisol in women after smelling pure androstadienone (4,16-androstadien-3-one), a molecule present in the sweat of men that has been suggested as a chemosignal in humans. We found that merely smelling androstadienone maintained significantly higher levels of the hormone cortisol in women. These results suggest that, like rodents, humans can influence the hormonal balance of conspecifics through chemosignals. Critically, this study identified a single component of sweat, androstadienone, as capable of exerting such influence. This result points to a potential role for synthetic human chemosignals in clinical applications. (+info)
Functional neuronal processing of body odors differs from that of similar common odors.
Visual and auditory stimuli of high social and ecological importance are processed in the brain by specialized neuronal networks. To date, this has not been demonstrated for olfactory stimuli. By means of positron emission tomography, we sought to elucidate the neuronal substrates behind body odor perception to answer the question of whether the central processing of body odors differs from perceptually similar nonbody odors. Body odors were processed by a network that was distinctly separate from common odors, indicating a separation in the processing of odors based on their source. Smelling a friend's body odor activated regions previously seen for familiar stimuli, whereas smelling a stranger activated amygdala and insular regions akin to what has previously been demonstrated for fearful stimuli. The results provide evidence that social olfactory stimuli of high ecological relevance are processed by specialized neuronal networks similar to what has previously been demonstrated for auditory and visual stimuli. (+info)
High fetal testosterone and sexually dimorphic cerebral networks in females.