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The smell of danger
Date:6/28/2011

lethylamine. Rats failed to show full avoidance of the depleted carnivore urine, indicating that 2-phenylethylamine is a key trigger for predator avoidance.

Lacking the gene for TAAR4, humans can't experience anything like what rodents do when they smell 2-phenylethylamine. To us, it has a mildly inoffensive odor. But trimethylamine, a related organic compound that activates TAAR5, a receptor found in humans, is deeply repugnant to people.

What happens between the receptors and the parts of the brain that trigger that avoidance behavior remains a mystery, one with direct medical relevance.

According to Liberles, "In humans, the parts of the brain that deal with likes and dislikes go awry in many diseases, like drug addiction, and predator odor responses have been used to model stress and anxiety disorders. Going from chemicals to receptors to neural circuits to behaviors is a Holy Grail of neuroscience."

"The neural circuits are like a black box, but here we have identified a chemical stimulant and a candidate receptor that trigger one behavior," Ferrero said. "We feel this is an important first step to understanding the neural circuitry of innate behavior."


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Contact: David Cameron
david_cameron@hms.harvard.edu
617-432-0441
Harvard Medical School
Source:Eurekalert

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