Yes, Virginia, There Is a Pheromone
WebMD News Archive
April 7, 2000 (Atlanta) -- Women who are nervous, tense, or suffering from PMS might want to try snuggling up to a man -- preferably one who is hairy and hasn't showered recently. A new study indicates that women who sniff a chemical found in male skin and body hair can reduce nervousness, tension, and other negative feelings.
The study, published in a recent issue of Pschoneuroendocrinology, appears to confirm the existence of a chemical found on human skin that can change the mood and behavior of other people. And the chemical gains access to the brain through an organ previously believed to serve no function, according to the study's authors.
This type of chemical, known as a pheromone, is known to be important in the animal kingdom and is responsible for many aspects of animal sexual behavior. The finding that these chemicals also work in humans may lead to new drugs and a new type of drug-delivery system. In the meantime, it has led to a new drug company.
Human pheromones have been a subject of debate and research for decades. In order for a chemical to meet the definition of a pheromone, it not only has to have an effect on a person's nervous system, it must also alter their behavior. Pheromones are undetected by the people whom they affect.
"We definitely found that human beings communicate with each other with pheromones, just like any terrestrial animal, and they do it through the same organ that all these terrestrial animals have, which is a vomeronasal organ [VNO], which all human beings have," David L. Berliner, MD, an author of the study, tells WebMD.
Berliner, who is now president and CEO of Pherin Pharmaceuticals, says that when he was a professor of anatomy at the University of Utah, he took it for granted that the human VNO didn't perform any function. In humans, VNOs exist in small pits inside the nose, but they are very different from the parts of the nose that detect smells.
Berliner and colleagues at Pherin and the University of Utah School of Medicine in Salt Lake City set out to see whether a substance called androstadienone would act as a pheromone on 40 women ages 20 to 45.