Vomeronasal organ: what it is, location and functions

The world of smells is fascinating. While we are probably dealing with the less developed sense in humans, thanks to this sense we are able to perceive a wide variety of aromas that have different effects on us, and even savor what we eat.

But smells aren’t all we can catch when we breathe in. And do the vast majority of mammals have an internal organ capable of detecting pheromones. We are talking about the vomeronasal organ, common to many mammals and the existence and functionality in humans has often been discussed.

    The vomeronasal organ: description and location

    We call a vomeronasal organ a structure that is present in a large number of living things and in humans (although, according to the study, it is indicated that it is part of all human beings or that only a percentage of between them owns), which it serves as an auxiliary organ of the olfactory system.

    It is a group of sensitive receptors specialized in the absorption of pheromones, Chemical signals left by living beings and which serve as a message to other beings, whether or not they are of the same species. These receptors are connected to bipolar neurons which have connections with the hypothalamus and the olfactory bulb.

    The vomeronasal organ is also called Jacobson’s organ in honor of Ludwig Lewin Jacobson, Who gave it its original name (vomeronasal organ) after studying the structure that Frederik Ruysch had seen and described (being the first to do so) after observing a structure in the previous part of the nasal septum of a corpse. Jacobson also visualized this organ in several animals and noticed a lack of development of this structure in the case of humans.

    In humans, this organ is a bilateral tube which can have several shapes, the most common being a conical sac, located in front of the vomer and below the respiratory mucosa. It is connected to the nasal cavity and is covered with epithelial tissue.

    In many animals there is an internal pump made up of blood vessels which, by contracting, allow pheromones to be absorbed and captured. However, this does not happen in humans, being a membranous organ that does not have a large vascularization.

      Functions of the Jacobson organ

      The existence of the vomeronasal organ is a reality in a large majority of terrestrial animals. The main function associated with this organ is to pick up the signals emitted by other members of the same species in order to transmit certain information. Uptake of pheromones allows animals to choose breeding pairs with very different immune systems from their own (which benefits potential offspring), which sense the health status of an animal of the same species, partners warn mating stage sexual potential or mark social status.

      too much it is very useful for many animals to detect and hunt their prey, As in the case of ophidians (in fact, the typical movement of the tongue of snakes helps to bring in and deliver pheromones to this organ).

      However, in other animals it does not appear to have functionality, as in the case of aquatic mammals (dolphins and whales) and some species of bats and monkeys.

      Functions in humans

      As for humans, as we mentioned earlier its functionality has been much discussed. The vomeronasal organ has traditionally been regarded as a residual organ inherited from our ancestors and without a role in our body, such as the tailbone, wisdom teeth or nipples in humans.

      However, the truth is that exposure to certain pheromones in the human vomeronasal organ has been observed. it can generate changes at the physiological level. In fact, it has been found that certain aspects of our behavior or even our biology can depend on or vary depending on the exposure to pheromones. The best-known example is sexual attraction: there are people who, being strangers, instinctively attract us, regardless of their physical appearance or personality.

      There is also another aspect that occurs regularly and the explanation is also hormonal: when several women live together continuously for a period of time, their menstrual cycles tend to synchronize. Likewise, the presence of men who cohabit with the woman can also alter the menstrual cycle. Likewise, it has been observed exposure to certain hormones relaxes behavior and it decreases the level of aggression in men, or it can increase their testosterone levels.

      Finally, the existence of certain pheromones emitted by mothers and babies that play a role is also known in the union and the maternal-filial bond and be able to modify the behavior of one of them depending on the watershed by part of the vomeronasal organ of some of them.

      Commercial exploitation of pheromones

      However, it should be borne in mind that the existence of this organ and the role of pheromones in aspects such as sexual attraction has been taken advantage of by a large number of brands in an attempt to sell their products, selling different fragrances or even pheromone preparations on a commercial level.

      In this sense, we must keep in mind that in the first place we ourselves have already emitted pheromones, mixing our own with those of other preparations can be confusing or even unpleasant, and we must keep in mind that sexual attraction and romance are not limited to the hormones we release.

      In addition, you have to consider that different pheromones can have different effects depending on who catches them (for example, as we have already said at the level of sexual attraction, it is usually more appetizing to someone with an immune system. very different from ours).

      Bibliographical references:

      • Nasser, A .; Fulla, JM; Vares, MA; Nazar, S. (2008). The human vomeronasal organ. Journal of Otorhinolaryngology and Head and Neck Surgery, 68 (2). Santiago.
      • Zeller, Florida (2007). Jacobson’s vomeronasal organ (UFO) normal anatomy and frequency in human fetuses. Tower. Argentina Urology, 1 (72).

      Leave a Comment