Olfactory effects of a hypervariable multicomponent pheromone in the redlegged salamander, Plethodon shermani

Damien B. Wilburn, Kari A. Doty, Adam J. Chouinard, Sarah L. Eddy, Sarah K. Woodley, Lynne D. Houck, Richard C. Feldhoff

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Chemical communication via chemosensory signaling is an essential process for promoting and modifying reproductive behavior in many species. During courtship in plethodontid salamanders, males deliver a mixture of non-volatile proteinaceous pheromones that activate chemosensory neurons in the vomeronasal epithelium (VNE) and increase female receptivity. One component of this mixture, Plethodontid Modulating Factor (PMF), is a hypervariable pheromone expressed as more than 30 unique isoforms that differ between individual maleslikely driven by co-evolution with female receptors to promote gene duplication and positive selection of the PMF gene complex. Courtship trials with females receiving different PMF isoform mixtures had variable effects on female mating receptivity, with only the most complex mixtures increasing receptivity, such that we believe that sufficient isoform diversity allows males to improve their reproductive success with any female in the mating population. The aim of this study was to test the effects of isoform variability on VNE neuron activation using the agmatine uptake assay. All isoform mixtures activated a similar number of neurons (>200% over background) except for a single purified PMF isoform (+17%). These data further support the hypothesis that PMF isoforms act synergistically in order to regulate female receptivity, and different putative mechanisms are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere0174370
JournalPloS one
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2017
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 Wilburn et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.


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