Evidence that petromyzontid lampreys employ a common migratory pheromone that is partially comprised of bile acids

Jared M. Fine, Lance A. Vrieze, Peter W. Sorensen

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This study examined whether the larval pheromone employed by adult sea lamprey (Petromyzon marinus) to locate spawning streams and known to be at least partially comprised of bile acids is also employed by other lamprey species. Both production and release of lamprey-specific bile acids, and sensitivity to them were examined in a wide variety of species. High pressure liquid chromatography and electrospray ionization/mass spectrometry (ESI-MS) found gallbladders from 10 species of European and North American lamprey to contain large quantities of petromyzonol sulfate (PS) together with much smaller quantities of allocholic acid (ACA) and petromyzonol (P). Evaluation of holding waters from three of these species using ESI-MS found all to contain large quantities of PS and lesser quantities of ACA in similar ratios. Electro-olfactogram recording from the olfactory systems of three parasitic lamprey species found all to detect PS and ACA with high sensitivity. Behavioral studies using migratory adult sea lamprey found them to be attracted to the odors of heterospecific larvae as well as conspecific larvae, both of which contained similar amounts of PS and ACA. Finally, adult silver lampreys (Ichthyomyzon unicuspis) were also found to be attracted to the odor of larval sea lamprey. Together, these results demonstrate that PS and ACA are commonly produced and released by larval petromyzontid lampreys and likely used as part of a common evolutionarily conserved pheromone. This scenario is reasonable because lampreys share similar larval and spawning habitat requirements, and their larvae derive no apparent benefit from producing compounds that serve as an attractant for adults.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2091-2110
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Chemical Ecology
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 1 2004


  • Allocholic acid
  • Evolution
  • Lamprey
  • Migration
  • Petromyzonol
  • Petromyzonol sulfate
  • Petromyzontidae
  • Pheromone
  • Species-specificity

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