We've updated our Privacy Policy to make it clearer how we use your personal data. We use cookies to provide you with a better experience. You can read our Cookie Policy here.


Smells Can Affect Metabolism and Aging in Mice

Two mice, balancing on plants, sniff each other.
Credit: Nick Fewing/ Unsplash
Listen with
Register for free to listen to this article
Thank you. Listen to this article using the player above.

Want to listen to this article for FREE?

Complete the form below to unlock access to ALL audio articles.

Read time: 1 minute

Exposure to female odours and pheromones causes weight loss and extend the life spans of mice, which may have implications for humans, University of Otago researchers have found.

Lead researcher Dr Michael Garratt, of the Department of Anatomy, says while it was already known that sensory cues in humans and animals influence the release of sex hormones, this study shows that these cues could have more wide-spread physiological effects on metabolism and ageing.

“Our studies show that female odours slow the sexual development of female mice, but consequently extends their lifespan. And we also show that the smell of females can increase male mouse energy expenditure, which subsequently influences their body weight and body fat levels,” he says.

Newborn mice were exposed to odours from adult females until they were 60 days old. Those females exposed to the odours reached sexual maturity later and lived an average 8 per cent  longer than those not exposed.

There was no effect of male odours on female mouse lifespan, or changes in lifespan in males in response to odours from either sex.

“As far as we know, this is the first observation that lifespan can be increased in a mammal by olfactory signals, or indeed secreted factors found in soiled bedding and urine,” Dr Garratt says.

“More generally, the work hints that sensory cues from our social environment can cause changes to our physiology and development, which may have long-term effects that extend to influence how we age.”

Want more breaking news?

Subscribe to Technology Networks’ daily newsletter, delivering breaking science news straight to your inbox every day.

Subscribe for FREE
While male mice did not directly benefit in terms of longevity from female odours during development, when they are exposed to female odours as adults, their weight and metabolism was substantially affected, he says.

“We have found that exposing male mice to female odours increases their energy expenditure for several hours after exposure.

“These effects are sufficient to induce weight loss and protect against males getting very fat when they are fed a diet that has an excess of energy.”

Regardless of the cause for improved metabolic health and longevity with female pheromones, the results suggest olfactory cues from other individuals may induce more widespread changes across the body.

“We would now like to understand how information received by the olfactory system is capable of inducing widespread effects. It is also possible that exposing male mice to female odours when they are adults may influence their lifespans and that’s a question we are currently pursuing,” Dr Garratt says.

Reference: Garratt M, Neyt C, Ladyman SR, Pyrski M, Zufall F, Leinders-Zufall T. Sensory detection of female olfactory cues as a central regulator of energy metabolism and body weight in male mice. iSci. 2023;26(4). doi:10.1016/j.isci.2023.106455

This article has been republished from the following materials. Note: material may have been edited for length and content. For further information, please contact the cited source.