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Keywords:

  • chemosensory neurones;
  • development;
  • Olfactory Marker Protein;
  • transient cells;
  • vomeronasal organ

Abstract

The vomeronasal organ (VNO) subserves basic chemosensory functions in rodents, mainly related to sexual behaviour. In order to understand early stages of the VNO structural maturation, we have undertaken an immunocytochemical analysis of the VNO of fetal mice.

 Our results demonstrate that Olfactory Marker Protein (OMP), a marker of differentiated chemosensory cells, is already expressed in vomeronasal neurones and their fibres projecting to the accessory olfactory bulb during the last week of gestation. However, in contrast to the adult, where its expression is restricted to the medial sensory neuronal component of the VNO, during fetal development OMP is also present in cells located in the lateral non-sensory epithelial component. Some other markers of nasal chemosensory neurones, such as GAP-43/B-50, Protein Gene Product 9.5 (PGP 9.5) and carnosine are also transiently expressed in this ectopic site.

 These results indicate that (i) significant morphological and biochemical maturation of the VNO is achieved before birth; (ii) transient cell populations, sharing the biochemical profile of the vomeronasal chemosensory receptors, occur in ectopic areas during fetal development.