New Publication: A revised conceptual framework for mouse vomeronasal pumping and stimulus sampling

Christoph Hamacher, Rudolf Degen, Melissa Franke, Victoria K. Switacz, David Fleck, Raghu Ram Katreddi, Andres Hernandez-Clavijo, Martin Strauch, Nao Horio, Enno Hachgenei, Jennifer Spehr, Stephen D. Liberles, Dorit Merhof, Paolo E. Forni, Geraldine Zimmer-Bensch, Yoram Ben-Shaul, and Marc Spehr (2024) A revised conceptual framework for mouse vomeronasal pumping and stimulus sampling, Current Biology 34, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2024.01.036

[su_spoiler title=”Show abstract” style=”simple”]
The physiological performance of any sensory organ is determined by its anatomy and physical properties. Consequently, complex sensory structures with elaborate features have evolved to optimize stimulus detection. Understanding these structures and their physical nature forms the basis for mechanistic insights into sensory function. Despite its crucial role as a sensor for pheromones and other behaviorally instructive chemical cues, the vomeronasal organ (VNO) remains a poorly characterized mammalian sensory structure. Fundamental principles of its physico-mechanical function, including basic aspects of stimulus sampling, remain poorly explored. Here, we revisit the classical vasomotor pump hypothesis of vomeronasal stimulus uptake. Using advanced anatomical, histological, and physiological methods, we demonstrate that large parts of the lateral mouse VNO are composed of smooth muscle. Vomeronasal smooth muscle tissue comprises two subsets of fibers with distinct topography, structure, excitation-contraction coupling, and, ultimately, contractile properties. Specifically, contractions of a large population of noradrenaline-sensitive cells mediate both transverse and longitudinal lumen expansion, whereas cholinergic stimulation targets an adluminal group of smooth muscle fibers. The latter run parallel to the VNO’s rostro-caudal axis and are ideally situated to mediate antagonistic longitudinal constriction of the lumen. This newly discovered arrangement implies a novel mode of function. Single-cell transcriptomics and pharmacological profiling reveal the receptor subtypes involved. Finally, 2D/3D tomography provides non-invasive insight into the intact VNO’s anatomy and mechanics, enables measurement of luminal fluid volume, and allows an assessment of relative volume change upon noradrenergic stimulation. Together, we propose a revised conceptual framework for mouse vomeronasal pumping and, thus, stimulus sampling.