Chemical senses

Alteration of mouse urinary odor by ingestion of the xenobiotic monoterpene citronellal.

PMID 20956737


Body odors provide a rich source of sensory information for other animals. There is considerable evidence to suggest that short-term fluctuations in body odor can be caused by diet; however, few, if any, previous studies have demonstrated that specific compounds can directly mask or alter mouse urinary odor when ingested and thus alter another animal's behavior. To investigate whether the ingestion of citronellal, a monoterpene aldehyde that produces an intense aroma detected by both humans and mice, can alter mouse urinary odor, mice (C57BL6J) were trained in a Y maze to discriminate between the urinary odors of male donor mice that had ingested either citronellal in aqueous solution or a control solution. Trained mice could discriminate between urinary odors from the citronellal ingestion and control groups. A series of generalization tests revealed that citronellal ingestion directly altered mouse urinary odor. Moreover, trained mice that had successfully discriminated between urinary odors from donor mice of different ages failed to detect age-related changes in urine from male mice that had ingested 50 ppm of citronellal. This study is the first to show that ingestion of a xenobiotic can alter mouse urinary odor and confuse the behavioral responses of trained mice to age-related scents.