Larval sea lamprey inhabit freshwater streams and migrate to oceans or lakes to feed after a radical metamorphosis; subsequently, mature adults return to streams to spawn. Previous observations suggested that lamprey utilize the odor of conspecific larvae to select streams for spawning. Here we report biochemical and electrophysiological evidence that this odor is comprised of two unique bile acids released by larvae. High performance liquid chromatography and mass spectrometry demonstrated that larval sea lamprey produce and release two unique bile acids, allocholic acid (ACA) and petromyzonol sulfate (PS). Electro-olfactogram (EOG) recording also demonstrated that the olfactory system of migratory adult sea lamprey is acutely and specifically sensitive to ACA and PS; detection thresholds for these compounds were approximately 10(-12) M. ACA and PS were the most potent of 38 bile acids tested and cross-adaptation experiments suggested that adult sea lamprey have specific olfactory receptor sites associated with independent signal transduction pathways for these bile acids. These receptor sites specifically recognize the key substituents of ACA and PS such as a 5 alpha-hydrogen, three axial hydroxyls, and a C-24 sulfate ester or carboxyl. In conclusion, the unique lamprey bile acids, ACA and PS, are potent and specific stimulants of the adult olfactory system, strongly supporting the hypothesis that these unique bile acids function as migratory pheromones in lamprey.

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