Little is known of the neural mechanisms of marsupial olfaction. However, functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) has made it possible to visualize dynamic brain function in mammals without invasion. In this study, central processing of urinary pheromones was investigated in the brown antechinus, Antechinus stuartii, using fMRI. Images were obtained from 18 subjects (11 males, 7 females) in response to conspecific urinary olfactory stimuli. Significant indiscriminate activation occurred in the accessory olfactory bulb, entorhinal, frontal, and parietal cortices in response to both male and female urine. The paraventricular nucleus of hypothalamus, ventrolateral thalamic nucleus, and medial preoptic area were only activated in response to male urine. Results of this MRI study indicate that projections of accessory olfactory system are activated by chemo-sensory cues. Furthermore, it appears that, based on these experiments, urinary pheromones may act on the hypothalamo-pituitary–adrenocortical axis via the paraventricular nucleus of the hypothalamus and may play an important role in the unique life history pattern of A. stuartii. Finally, this study has demonstrated that fMRI may be a powerful tool for investigations of olfactory processes in mammals.
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