Pheromones and Physiology: Faculty of 1000: Naturally Selected

By: James V. Kohl | Published on: January 25, 2011

Bruce McEwen has joined Allen Cowley and Denis Noble as joint Head of Physiology among the Faculty of 1000. There is a brief audiotape about the ongoing importance of physiology even as new perspectives are being offered —  given the accumulating knowledge of molecular networks.
I’ve added some comments to “Naturally Selected,” where this announcement about Dr. McEwen was posted, but will post details here.
Bruce was inspirational to my pursuit of knowledge that links sensory input from the social environment to human behavior. In 1993, he spent several hours discussing the animal model I had developed when we met at my home in Las Vegas, Nevada. Bruce reassured me that the model seemed to be an accurate representation of how mammalian pheromones effected hormones that affect behavior. He also cautioned me that the model was incomplete because I did not address how pheromones — the sensory stimuli from the social environment — activated genes in hormone-secreting neurons of the brain.
I was blind-sided because of my very limited knowledge of the required molecular biology.  However, Bruce directed me to Donald Pfaff, who I also had arranged to meet with the next day.  I’m not sure whether Donald would have taken me seriously had the question about gene activation not come from Bruce. Unlike Bruce, Donald seemed a bit perturbed about my lack of academic credentials. However, he vaguely recalled a poster session he had seen and told me to contact “Bob” (Robert L) Moss in Texas.
After I forwarded Bob a copy of my model, I spoke with him and he confirmed, after some argumentative joking with me,  that his group had shown gene activation in gonadotropin releasing hormone (GnRH) neurons of the brain of rats that resulted from pheromone exposure. His group had not yet published the paper I just linked to, but Bob mailed me a copy of it and two other papers that were in-press.  When I met with Bob at the 1994 Endocrine Society meeting in Annaheim, California, he urged me to move forward with what I had already learned, and simply put, to “write the book” on it, which I did with my co-author Robert Francoeur.  The Scent of Eros: Mysteries of Odor in Human Sexuality was published in 1995 (and again in 2002).  Tragically, Bob Moss died waiting for a heart transplant in 1999.  His obituary is very telling with regard to his outstanding abilities and helpful nature. Had he not stressed with me, as did Bruce McEwen, the need to show gene activation in GnRH-secreting nerve cells of brain tissue, my mammalian model that links pheromones to human behavior would be incomplete. Instead, every level of biological organization that is required to link sensory input from the social environment to behavior is detailed in my model. And, given the new information about ….
Those of you who have read this will probably be interested in what’s next. I’ll get back to you on that!

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