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Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews
Volume 119, 2020, Pages 281-293

Pathogens, odors, and disgust in rodents

Martin Kavaliersa,b, Klaus-Peter Ossenkoppa, Elena Cholerisb

Department of Psychology and Neuroscience Program, University of Western Ontario, London, Canada.


All animals are under the constant threat of attack by parasites. The mere presence of parasite threat can alter behavior before infection takes place. These effects involve pathogen disgust, an evolutionarily conserved affective/emotional system that functions to detect cues associated with parasites and infection and facilitate avoidance behaviors. Animals gauge the infection status of conspecific and the salience of the threat they represent on the basis of various sensory cues. Odors in particular are a major source of social information about conspecifics and the infection threat they present. Here we briefly consider the origins, expression, and regulation of the fundamental features of odor mediated pathogen disgust in rodents. We briefly review aspects of: (1) the expression of affective states and emotions and in particular, disgust, in rodents; (2) olfactory mediated recognition and avoidance of potentially infected conspecifics and the impact of pathogen disgust and its’ fundamental features on behavior; (3) pathogen disgust associated trade-offs; (4) the neurobiological mechanisms, and in particular the roles of the nonapeptide, oxytocin, and steroidal hormones, in the expression of pathogen disgust and the regulation of avoidance behaviors and concomitant trade-offs. Understanding the roles of pathogen disgust in rodents can provide insights into the regulation and expression of responses to pathogens and infection in humans.

Keywords: Affective state, Emotion, Affect, Parasite, Infection, Social behavior, Social learning, Oxytocin, Valence, Social recognition, Social information.

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