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MARGINALIA

Cats and Rats

Roald Hoffman

Figure 1. The euphoric effectClick to Enlarge Image

Cats are crazy about catnip. So every pet shop does a brisk trade in run-of-the-mill catnip toys, and some over-the-top catnip articles, such as those shown in Figure 1, are offered on the Web. The active principle in catnip is called nepetalactone, which is a so-called cyclopentanoid monoterpene—a pretty simple organic compound. My colleague, Jerry Meinwald, determined its structure (shown at right) about 50 years ago. Nepetalactone, synthetic or natural, induces in most cats a psychosexual response of stretching, rubbing and curling. The behavior is elicited at concentrations as low or lower than one part per billion. And not only in domestic cats, but also other Felidae members, including lions. This I would like to see.





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