Pheromones: This fragrance activates innate sex drives

Study deciphered effects of pheromone darcin

Pheromones are scent messages that have a strong impact on sexual behavior in animals. Humans also have receptors for pheromones. The exact effects of these fragrances on human sexuality are currently unclear. A current study now shows that the pheromone darcin makes female mice go crazy.

Columbia University researchers were able to decipher the exact effects of the pheromone darcin on female mice for the first time. In a recent study, the team showed how the sexual fragrance activates brain circuits that control both innate and learned sexual behaviors. The results were recently presented in the renowned journal "Nature".

Named after a cult figure

Mr. Darcy is a romantic main character from Jane Austen's cult novel "Pride and Prejudice". A pheromone has been named after the distant hero, who has had difficulties in getting the female sex to love history, and has caused female mice to go crazy.

Darcin stimulates sexual readiness in mouse ladies

According to the study, the protein darcin, which belongs to the pheromones, acts directly on the emotional center in the brain of the mouse ladies and stimulates sexual readiness there. This should help the mouse to choose a partner.

Pheromones are powerful scent messages

The researchers emphasize that this study shows that a single protein has the ability to change complete behavior. "Pheromones act as powerful scent messages to signal the presence of danger, food or potential partners," reports lead author Dr. Ebru Demir. The study brings the much needed understanding of mechanisms with which animals use smells for communication.

Darcin was discovered in 2010. A research team at Liverpool University led by Robert Beynon and Jane Hurst found that male mice release darcin in their urine to mark their territory and initiate courtship. In the female mice, sniffing the urine helped decide whether the female wanted to mate or not.

Pheromones are perceived through a special system

In contrast to other fragrances, pheromones like darcin are processed differently. For example, mice have a parallel olfactory system that acts like a second nose. "In contrast to humans, mice essentially have two functional noses," explains Dr. Demir. The first nose works like ours: it processes odors and recognizes odor particles that we perceive as a stench, for example. A second system has developed specifically to detect pheromones like Darcin.

Darcin affects the behavior of female mice

Experiments have shown that female mice exposed to the Darcin fragrance went nuts. The darcin had an immediate appeal. The mouse ladies began to sing in ultrasound frequencies to attract partners. They also increasingly left their own fragrance brands.

Darcin acts directly on the brain

It has also been shown that these specialized proteins send smell information directly to specific locations in the brain. More specifically, according to the study, Darcin activates a region of the brain called the medial amygdala. There, the team identified a small subset of brain cells called nNOS neurons. These neurons are activated directly by the darcin.

"By artificially activating these neurons, we were able to simulate the animals' response to darcin and induce the same behavior," said Dr. When the neurons were artificially blocked, the mice lost all interest in the fragrance.

Amygdala: the center of emotions

The researchers find it particularly fascinating that the neurons are located in the amygdala. This area of ​​the brain is associated with emotional reactions such as fear or anger. Darcin pheromone has now discovered another function of the medial amygdala.

The door to the world of pheromones opens

"Pheromones have long been associated with an innate, immediate behavioral response, but here we have shown that darcin can induce complex behaviors that depend on the animal's internal condition," concludes Dr. "If we continue our research, one possible result is that other pheromones can also affect the brain in a similarly unexpected and complex way," said Dr. Demir.

What effects do pheromones have on humans?

It is currently controversial whether pheromones affect humans or not. Studies have already shown that humans also secrete pheromones. For example, the pheromone androstadienone can be found in male sweat. The study results in this area indicate that pheromones also play a role in human partner selection. The clear proof is still pending. (vb)

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.

Graduate editor (FH) Volker Blasek


  • The Zuckerman Institute, Columbia University: Sex Pheromone Named for Jane Austen Character Alters Brain in Mouse Courtship (published: January 29th, 2020),
  • Ebru Demir, Kenneth Li, Natasha Bobrowski-Khoury, et al .: The pheromone darcin drives a circuit for innate and reinforced behaviors; in: Nature, 2020,
  • J. Verhaeghe, R. Gheysen, P. Enzlin: Pheromones and their effect on women’s mood and sexuality; in Facts, Views & Visions in ObGyn, 2013,

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