During the period when they are producing sperm, male sea lampreys (Petromyzon marinus L.) release a sex pheromone 7α, 12α, 24-trihydroxy-5α-cholan-3-one-24-sulfate (3 keto-petromyzonol sulfate, 3ketoPZS) that induces search and preference behaviors in ovulating females. In this study, we conducted a series of experiments to demonstrate that release of this pheromone into water takes place exclusively through the gills. In a behavioral maze, water conditioned with the anterior region of spermiating males induced an increase of search and preference behaviors in ovulating females. Similar behavior was not elicited by water conditioned by the posterior region. The anterior region washings and whole-body washings from spermiating males also elicited large and virtually identical electro-olfactogram responses from female sea lampreys, while the posterior washings produced negligible responses. Further, mass spectrometry and immunoassay confirmed that virtually all the 3ketoPZS released into water was through the gills. Immunocytochemistry revealed some gill epithelial cells and hepatocytes from spermiating males contained dense immunoreactive 3ketoPZS, but not those from prespermiating males. These results demonstrate that 3ketoPZS is released through the gill epithelia and suggest that this pheromone or its precursor may be produced in the liver.
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