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American Association for the Advancement of Science

Darcin helps mice remember where scent marks are

Close-up photograph of a mouse's nose and whiskers.
[Image courtesy of Dr. Michael Thom, Department of Biology at University of York]

Scent marks, or the odors that mammals leave behind to mark their territory, contain cocktails of chemicals that pass on information about the animal's gender and social status. Animals regularly revisit scent marks to get more information about the creature leaving them, but until now researchers have not known how animals relocate these scent marks days or even weeks after first finding them.

Sarah Roberts and colleagues experimented with mice and found that a protein known as darcin, which is found in the rodents' urine, allows female mice to remember where male mice have left their scents. The researchers discovered that female mice—as well as competitive males—preferred to be in locations where male urine or darcin that was made in the lab had been placed. Female mice even remembered those locations and investigated them for two weeks after the scents had been removed, they say.

These new findings suggest that the darcin protein helps mice to remember locations, allowing them to relocate scent marks they have encountered in the past as well as areas where mice are known to socialize. And, according to the researchers, proteins that are similar to darcin might also act as stimuli for rodents to learn.