The vomeronasal organ (VNO) is essential for intraspecies communication in many terrestrial vertebrates. The ionic mechanisms of VNO activation remain unclear. We found that the calcium-activated potassium channel SK3 and the G proteing-activated potassium channel GIRK are part of an independent pathway for VNO activation. In slice preparations, the potassium channels attenuated inward currents carried by TRPC2 and calcium-activated chloride channels (CACCs). In intact tissue preparations, paradoxically, the potassium channels enhanced urine-evoked inward currents. This discrepancy resulted from the loss of a high concentration of lumenal potassium, which enabled the influx of potassium ions to depolarize the VNO neurons in vivo. Both Sk3 (also known as Kcnn3) and Girk1 (also known as Kcnj3) homozygous null mice showed deficits in mating and aggressive behaviors, and the deficiencies in Sk3 ĝ̂'/ĝ̂' mice were exacerbated by Trpc2 knockout. Our results suggest that VNO activation is mediated by TRPC2, CACCs and two potassium channels, all of which contributed to the in vivo depolarization of VNO neurons.
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