Olfaction is the dominant sensory modality in rodents, and is crucial for regulating social behaviors, including parental care. Paternal care is rare in rodents, but can have significant consequences for offspring fitness, suggesting a need to understand the factors that regulate its expression. Pup-related odor cues are critical for the onset and maintenance of paternal care. Here, I consider the role of olfaction in the expression of paternal care in rodents. The medial preoptic area shares neural projections with the olfactory and accessory olfactory bulbs, which are responsible for the interpretation of olfactory cues detected by the main olfactory and vomeronasal systems. The olfactory, trace amine, membrane-spanning 4-pass A, vomeronasal 1, vomeronasal 2 and formyl peptide receptors are all involved in olfactory detection. I highlight the roles that 10 olfactory genes play in the expression of direct paternal care behaviors, acknowledging that this list is not exhaustive. Many of these genes modulate parental aggression towards intruders, and facilitate the recognition and discrimination of pups in general. Much of our understanding comes from studies on non-naturally paternal laboratory rodents. Future studies should explore what role these genes play in the regulation and expression of paternal care in naturally biparental species.
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