• vomeronasal;
  • chemosignals;
  • evolution;
  • development


Accessory olfaction is defined as the chemoreceptive system that employs the vomeronasal complex (VNC) and its distinct central projections to the accessory olfactory bulb (AOB) and limbic/cortical systems. Comparisons of the structural and functional features of primate accessory olfaction can now be made at many levels. Advances in the understanding of molecular mechanisms of odorant transfer and detection, physiological analyses of signal processing, and appreciation of ontogenetic timetables have clarified the contribution of accessory chemoreception to the sensory map. Two principal functions dominate: the decoding of social information through the uptake of signals (often fluid-borne), and the provision of an essential pathway for the “migration” of presumptive neurocrine (GnRH) cells from the olfactory placode to the hypothalamus. VN “smelling” (vomerolfaction) is now seen to overlap with primary olfaction. Both systems detect signal compounds along the spectrum of volatility/molecular weight, and neither is an exclusive sensor. Both main and accessory chemoreception seem to require collaborative molecular devices to assist in odorant transfer (binding proteins) and (for the VNO) signal recognition (MHC1 proteins). Most adaptive-selective features of primate chemocommunication variously resemble those of other terrestrial mammals. VN function, along with its genome, has been maintained within the Strepsirrhines and tarsiers, reduced in Platyrrhines, and nearly extinguished at the Catarrhine up to hominin levels. It persists as an intriguing ancient sense that retains key features of past evolutionary events. Am. J. Primatol. 68:525–544, 2006.© 2006 Wiley-Liss, Inc.