Influenza Infection Neutralizes the Attractiveness of Male Odour to Female Mice (Mus musculus)


Department of Biology, University of Utah, 257 South 1400 East, Salt Lake City, Utah 84112, USA. E-mail:


This study aimed to determine if female house mice, Mus musculus domesticus, are able to assess a male's infection status from odour cues. We collected urine from male mice before, during, and after they were experimentally infected with influenza, a respiratory virus. Females spent more time investigating urine collected from males while they were uninfected than when they were infected. Also 70 % of females released into a large enclosure preferred to nest in boxes containing urine collected from uninfected rather than infected males. This is the first evidence that mice can discriminate virally infected individuals through chemical signals and the first evidence that infection causes odour changes in the urine. To determine if the odour of infected males is repulsive, we presented females with urine samples and neutral water blanks. Normal urine collected from uninfected males was more attractive, whereas urine collected during infection was as attractive as water. This indicates that rather than being aversive, influenza infection abolishes the attractiveness of a male's odour. A similar effect also occurs when male mice are infected with coccidian gut parasites (Kavaliers & Colwell 1995, Proc. R. Soc. Lond. 261B, 31–35). One proximate reason for the neutralization of the attractiveness of a male's odour may be a decrease in serum androgen concentrations during infection.