Journal of Comparative Physiology A

, Volume 196, Issue 10, pp 779–790 | Cite as

A pheromone to behave, a pheromone to learn: the rabbit mammary pheromone

  • Gérard CoureaudEmail author
  • Rachel Charra
  • Frédérique Datiche
  • Charlotte Sinding
  • Thierry Thomas-Danguin
  • Solène Languille
  • Bernard Hars
  • Benoist Schaal


Birth is part of a continuum and is a major developmental change. Newborns need to adapt rapidly to the environment in terms of physiology and behaviour, and ability to locate the maternal source of milk is vital. Mechanisms have evolved resulting in the emission of olfactory cues by the mother and the processing of these cues by the young. Here, we focus on some sensory, cognitive and behavioural strategies developed by the European rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) that optimize the early development of offspring. In this species, chemosensory communication between the mother and young plays a critical role in eliciting adaptive neonatal responses. In particular, lactating females release a molecule, the mammary pheromone, which has several functional impacts. It triggers orocephalic responses involved in the quick localization of nipples and sucking. Moreover, this unconditioned signal promotes rapid appetitive learning of novel odorants, acting as a potent organizer of neonatal cognition. The mammary-pheromone-induced odour memory requires consolidation/reconsolidation processes to be maintained in the long term. Finally, as this mode of conditioning also promotes learning of mixtures of odorants, it supports investigations related to the capacity of neonatal olfaction to extract biological value from the complex environment.


Rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculusMother–young relations Pheromone Learning Adaptation 



We are grateful to the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), Inra, Regional Councils of Poitou-Charente and of Burgundy, French Ministry of Research and Technology, Agence Nationale pour la Recherche, Fyssen Foundation, and the Institut Fédératif de Recherche no. 92, for funding our research. We are also indebted to the following persons for their generous and critical help, in particular in the access to and managing of animals, from Tours-Nouzilly, Surgères and Toulouse: P. Coudert, L. Fortun-Lamothe, F. Lebas, C. Limousin, P. Mercier, J. Ponceau, J.L. Vrillon; Bayreuth: H. Rödel, D. von Holst; Dijon ENESAD: G. Perrier, J.P. Drouet, M. Jouanno, and currently, the Centre de Zootechnie de l’Université de Bourgogne: V. Saint-Giorgio, N. Malaty, F. Costilhes. All experiments were carried out in accordance with ethical rules enforced by French law, and were supported by ethical committee authorization.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Gérard Coureaud
    • 1
    Email author
  • Rachel Charra
    • 1
    • 2
  • Frédérique Datiche
    • 2
  • Charlotte Sinding
    • 1
    • 3
  • Thierry Thomas-Danguin
    • 3
  • Solène Languille
    • 4
  • Bernard Hars
    • 4
  • Benoist Schaal
    • 1
  1. 1.Developmental Ethology and Cognitive Psychology Group, Centre des Sciences du Goût et de l’Alimentation, UMR 6265 CNRS, UMR 1324 INRAUniversité de BourgogneDijonFrance
  2. 2.Brain Detection of Nutrients Group, Centre des Sciences du Goût et de l’Alimentation, UMR 6265 CNRS, UMR 1324 INRAUniversité de BourgogneDijonFrance
  3. 3.Perception of Flavour Group, Centre des Sciences du Goût et de l’Alimentation, UMR 6265 CNRS, UMR 1324 INRAUniversité de BourgogneDijonFrance
  4. 4.Laboratoire de Neurobiologie de l’Apprentissage, de la Mémoire et de la Communication, UMR 8620 CNRSUniversité Paris XIOrsayFrance

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