Olfactory responses to steroids in an African mouth-brooding cichlid, Haplochromis burtoni(Günther)
Underwater electro‐olfactogram (EOG) recordings involving 150 steroids and eight prostaglandins were used to determine which of these potential odorants are detected by the olfactory organ of an African cichlid, Haplochromis burtoni. In initial EOG tests at 10−9 M, H. burtoni did not respond to unconjugated steroids or prostaglandins, but did respond to 17 conjugated steroids, 11 of which (17β‐oestradiol‐17β‐glucuronide; 17β‐oestradiol‐3‐sulphate; 17β‐oestradiol‐3,17β‐disulphate; epiandrosteron‐3β‐sulphate; etiocholanolone‐3α‐glucuronide; testosterone‐17β‐sulphate; dehydroepiandrosterone‐3β‐sulphate; 5α‐pregnan‐3β‐ol‐20‐one‐3β‐sulphate; 5β‐pregnan‐3α,17‐diol‐20‐one‐3α‐glucuronide; 5β‐pregnan‐3α,17,21‐triol‐11,20‐dione‐3α‐glucuronide; pregnenolone‐3β‐sulphate) were selected for EOG concentration‐response, cross‐adaptation and binary mixture tests. The EOG detection thresholds ranged from 10−11 to 10−9 M in all but one instance (female threshold to pregnenolone‐3β‐sulphate; 10−8 M), and males and females exhibited only minor differences in EOG threshold or response magnitude. Results of EOG cross‐adaptation tests, which were supported by results of binary mixture tests, indicated that the response to the 11 steroid conjugates is mediated by five putative olfactory receptor mechanisms characterized by specificity for conjugate position and type: 3‐sulphate, 17‐sulphate, 3,17‐disulphate, 3‐glucuronide, 17‐glucuronide. Although there is no evidence that H. burtoni releases, or exhibits biological response to, the steroids shown to be detected in this study, the present results are suggestive of a complex pheromone system utilizing steroid conjugates.