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Does chronic malaria modify the odours of its male mouse host?

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Chemical signalling, considered the most important means of communication in rodents, is controlled by the immune and endocrine systems. Several parasitic diseases are associated with modifications of the odour cues deposited by infected male mice and these modifications, conspicuous to sexually receptive females, are supposed to play a role in a parasite-mediated mate choice process. The present study clearly demonstrates, with the use of three different two choice test procedures, that females can discriminate the chemical message from malaria-infected and healthy male mice (Mus musculus L., 1758). Females spent more time sniffing soiled beddings and preputial skin rubbings collected from parasitized males at 15 days post injection and at 15, 22, 29 days post injection, respectively. Also, females could discriminate the overall body odour of a parasitized male at 35 days post injection. The cause of these modifications is discussed with regard to the numerous pathologies previously described in the genital tract of infected males. And the present study, although it avoids drawing any conclusions on a parasite-mediated mate choice under wild conditions, stresses the potential benefit that the parasite may gain from the situation.

La signalisation chimique, considérée comme le moyen de communication le plus important chez les rongeurs, est contrôlée par les systèmes immunitaire et endocrinien. Plusieurs maladies parasitaires entraînent des modifications des signaux odorants laissés par les souris mâles infectées; ces modifications, perceptibles aux femelles sexuellement réceptives, jouent, semble-t-il, un rôle dans le processus du choix du partenaire sous l'influence du parasite. Notre étude démontre clairement, à l'aide de trois procédures différentes à deux choix, que les femelles peuvent distinguer les messages chimiques provenant de mâles infectés par la malaria de ceux de mâles sains, chez la souris Mus musculus L., 1758. Les femelles passent plus de temps à renifler la litière souillée de mâles infectés 15 jours après l'injection et à sentir les frottis de peau de prépuce de mâles infectés 15, 22 et 29 jours après l'injection. Les femelles peuvent aussi reconnaître l'odeur corporelle globale d'un mâle parasité 35 jours après l'injection. Nous discutons des causes de ces modifications dans le contexte des nombreuses pathologies décrites antérieurement dans le tractus génital des mâles infectés. Bien que nous ne tirions aucune conclusion sur le rôle des parasites dans le choix des partenaires en nature, nous présentons les avantages potentiels que le parasite peut retirer de la situation.[Traduit par la Rédaction]

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2005-08-01

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  • Published since 1929, this monthly journal reports on primary research contributed by respected international scientists in the broad field of zoology, including behaviour, biochemistry and physiology, developmental biology, ecology, genetics, morphology and ultrastructure, parasitology and pathology, and systematics and evolution. It also invites experts to submit review articles on topics of current interest.
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