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Chronic exposure of cat odor enhances aggression, urinary attractiveness and sex pheromones of mice

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Abstract

To test whether predator odor exposure negatively affects the behavior of prey, we exposed three groups of male house mice (Mus musculus) to the odors of cat (Felis catus) urine, rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) urine and water (control), respectively, for consecutive 58 days and investigated how the treatments affected the response, aggressiveness, dominance, urinary attractiveness to females and pheromone composition of male mice. Compared to mice exposed to rabbit urine or water, those exposed to cat odor did not show any response habituation to the cat odor and became more aggressive, increased mark urine production and were more attractive to females when the latter were tested with their urine. Furthermore, gas chromatography coupled with mass spectrometry analysis revealed coincident elevations of the well-known male pheromones, E,E-α-farnesene, E-β-farnesene, R,R-dehydro-exo-brevicomin or S-2-sec-butyl-dihydrothiazole. In addition, rabbit urine exposure increased urinary attractiveness to females and pheromonal levels of the males in comparison with the mice exposed to water. This could be related to olfactory enrichment of heterospecific chemosignals, suggesting that predator odors were more beneficial. In light of these anti-intuitional findings in the chemical interaction between cats and mice, we conclude that predator odor affects prey more profoundly than previously believed and that its impact may not always be negative.

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Acknowledgements

This research was supported by grants (No. DC 24180 to M.Y.N) from the National Institute of Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, National Institute of Health (NIH) and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The manuscript preparation was supported by the CAS Innovative Research International Partnership Project (CXTDS2005-4 to J.X.Z and L.S.) and the China NSF (No. 30670268 to J.X.Z).

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Correspondence to Jian-Xu Zhang.

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Zhang, JX., Sun, L., Bruce, K.E. et al. Chronic exposure of cat odor enhances aggression, urinary attractiveness and sex pheromones of mice. J Ethol 26, 279–286 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10164-007-0060-1

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10164-007-0060-1

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