Scientists unlock the secret of male mouse ‘sex appeal’


Scientists at the University have identified a protein pheromone in mouse urine that is responsible for female attraction to particular male mice.

The pheromone ‘darcin’ – named after Mr Darcy, Jane Austen’s hero in  Pride and Prejudice – stimulates females to learn an individual male’s scent, reinforcing their memory of sexual attraction to that same male.

Previous studies have shown that many mammals use urine to communicate sexual attractiveness, in mice, females learn attraction to a male’s scent through contact with urine and recall their attraction when the scent is detected at a distance.

The Liverpool team looked for the chemicals that conveyed this attractiveness investigating major urinary proteins (MUPs) in mouse urine, which act like a chemical ‘barcode’ of individual identity and kin recognition. For the first team, the team has demonstrated that one of these MUPs’ – darcin – is essential for female attraction to male mice.

Professor Jane Hurst, who leads the Mammalian Behaviour and Evolution Group, said: “Our work emphasises the importance of studying the behaviour of wild mice, understanding subtleties of these chemical signals in mice might help in the development of new methods of pest control.

“The economic impact of rodent-mediated damage to food, buildings and in the transmission of disease runs to many billions of pounds worldwide.”

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