Maternal Odours Induce Fos in the Main But Not the Accessory Olfactory Bulbs of Neonatal Male and Female Ferrets


Michael J. Baum, Department of Biology, Boston University, Boston, MA 02215, USA (e-mail:


Previous research demonstrated that exposing gonadectomized adult ferrets to odours in oestrous female bedding induced nuclear Fos-immunoreactivity (Fos-IR; a marker of neuronal activity) in the main as opposed to the accessory olfactory system in a sexually dimorphic fashion, which was further augmented in both sexes by treatment with testosterone propionate. Ferrets are born in an altricial state and presumably use maternal odour cues to locate the nipples until the eyes open after postnatal (P) day 23. We investigated whether maternal odours augment neuronal Fos preferentially in the main versus accessory olfactory system of neonatal male and female ferret kits. Circulating testosterone levels peak in male ferrets on postnatal day P15, and mothers provide maximal anogenital stimulation (AGS) to males at this same age. Therefore, we assessed the ability of maternal odours to augment Fos-IR in the accessory olfactory bulb (AOB), the main olfactory bulb (MOB) and other forebrain regions of male and female ferret kits on P15 and investigated whether artificial AGS (provided with a paintbrush) would further enhance any effects of maternal odours. After separation from their mothers for 4 h, groups of male and female kits that were placed for 1.5 h with their anaesthetized mother had significantly more Fos-IR cells in the MOB granule cell layer and in the anterior-cortical amygdala, but not in the AOB cell layer, compared to control kits that were left on the heating pad. Artificial AGS failed to amplify these effects of maternal odours. Maternal odours (with or without concurrent AGS) failed to augment neuronal Fos-IR in medial amygdaloid and hypothalamic regions that are activated in adult ferrets by social odours. In neonatal ferrets of both sexes, as in adults, socially relevant odours are detected by the main olfactory epithelium and initially processed by the MOB and the anterior-cortical amygdala. In neonates, unlike adults, medial amygdaloid and hypothalamic neurones either do not respond to these inputs or respond in a manner that fails to induce Fos expression.