Chemical Identification of “Maternal Signature Odors”

The innate ability of newborn altricial mammals to locate their mother’s nipples for nursing relies heavily on olfaction, particularly maternal scent found in amniotic fluid (AF). Despite its importance, the specific chemical compounds responsible for this attraction have remained elusive. Through comprehensive behavioral tests and advanced analytical techniques, we identified three key compounds—ethylbenzene, benzaldehyde, and benzyl alcohol—in AF extracts that serve as maternal attractant substances (MAS). These compounds, found in various maternal sources including milk and nipples, create a distinct “maternal signature odor” (MSO) learned by offspring. Additionally, the presence of anethole, a dietary flavor, further enhances this olfactory cue. These findings offer insights into early olfactory learning and underscore the universal nature of survival behaviors among mammalian species.

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