Citing her outstanding research on the identity of essential signaling components of the murine vomeronasal organ, Catherine Dulac, Professor of Molecular and Cellular Biology and Investigator, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, was among the 202 new Fellows elected to membership in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Founded in 1780, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences is an international learned society composed of the world’s leading scientists, scholars, artists, business people, and public leaders. With a current membership of 4,000 American Fellows and 600 Foreign Honorary Members, the Academy sponsors studies and meetings concerning critical social and intellectual issues and the development of practical policy alternatives. The Academy’s main headquarters are in Cambridge, Massachusetts. With its geographically diverse membership, it has also established regional centers at the University of Chicago and at the University of California, Irvine, and conducts activities in this country and abroad.
The work of Catherine Dulac and her laboratory has pioneered the molecular analysis of pheromone detection in the vomeronasal organ of mammals. After developing a novel gene identification strategy based on the construction and the screening of cDNA libraries from single neurons, Catherine Dulac discovered the first family of putative mammalian pheromone receptors, the V1Rs, in collaboration with Richard Axel at Columbia University. Dulac’s laboratory further characterized essential components of the pheromone signaling pathway, including a second family of pheromone receptor, the V2Rs, and the TRPC2 ion channel required for the pheromone-evoked sensory response. The identification of genes essential for the mammalian pheromone response has opened new avenues of research on the sensory mechanisms underlying animal communication and leading to specific behaviors such as aggression and mating. Work in her laboratory discovered that male mice deficient in TRPC2 expression fail to display male-male aggression and, instead, attempt to mate with both males and females. This was an important contradiction to the established notion that activity of the vomeronasal organ is required for the initiation of male-female mating behavior and suggesting instead a critical role in sex discrimination. Recently her group reported the functional characterization of non-classical MHC class 1b molecules M10s and M1s which escort the pheromone receptors V2Rs to the cell surface, thus uncovering a very unusual molecular association between MHC and G-protein coupled receptors.
Catherine Dulac, has used a unique combination of molecular, genetic and behavioral strategies to uncover olfactory-based sensory mechanisms underlying animal aggressive and mating behaviors. Moreover, the ability to investigate gene expression in individual cells, with conventional cDNA libraries and with genome-wide micro-arrays, has provided an invaluable tool, subsequently used by many groups, to uncover the molecular basis of neuronal identity.