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Macho pheromones rile fellows

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1:30pm, December 16, 2007

Two male mice often fight when put in a cage, but if one is neutered they get along fine. Decades ago, scientists found out that dabbing urine from an intact male mouse on the back of a neutered mouse gave the latter the chemical signature of an unaltered male. The neutered mouse soon found himself brawling with the guys.

Combining this behavioral test with modern biochemical analyses, molecular biologist Lisa Stowers and her colleagues at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, Calif., now reveal some of the chemistry behind the aggression.

In male mouse urine, proteins in a cluster called the major urinary protein (MUP) complex function as pheromones that literally strike a nerve in other males, the scientists report in the Dec. 6 Nature. An individual mouse has only a few of the 20 or so proteins that can show up in an MUP cluster. In the study, those few were enough to act as a fight pheromone when researchers dabbed them on neutered males.

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