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Keywords:

  • neuroepithelium;
  • bipolar neurons;
  • epithelial cells;
  • vomeronasal nerve;
  • chemosensory organ;
  • G proteins;
  • putative pheromone receptors

Abstract

In many terrestrial tetrapodes, a pair of vomeronasal organs (VNOs), which are chemosensory apparatuses, are situated at the base of the nasal septum in the anterior nasal cavity. The purposes of this review are to summarize comparative neuroanatomy and to introduce recent progress in neurobiological studies of the VNO. Five types of VNOs can be identifiable in terms of anatomical organization; snakes possess the most complex one. Sensory cells in the VNO, vomeronasal receptor neurons (VRNs), are located in its neuroepithelium, vomeronassal sensory epithelium. The VRNs retain the characteristic of epithelial cells in that they are born continuously from progenitor cells. They contain two prominent subcellular structures: microvilli and extraordinarily large amounts of smooth endoplasmic reticulum and a few unique glycoconjugates. The VRNs express two types of G-protein -subunits: Giα2 and Goα and each of them is coupled with putative pheromone receptors, V1Rs and V2Rs, respectively. Recent physiological and biochemical studies have demonstrated that pheromones depolarize the V1R-Giα2 and V2R-Goα VRNs via IP3-mediated mechanisms. The VRNs do not show adaptation and are ultrasensitive to putative pheromones. Other than being a chemosensory organ, the VNO and its primordium might play important roles for brain development; hypothalamic neurons that produce gonadotropin-releasing hormone are born in the VNO primordium and a few other neuron-like cells may be born in the VNO primordium and VNO. In human fetuses, anatomical findings strongly suggest that their VNOs contain a neuroepithelium. By contrast, it is unlikely that adult human VNO serves as a chemosensory organ. Microsc. Res. Tech. 58:228–250, 2002. © 2002 Wiley-Liss, Inc.