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The mammalian vomeronasal organ encodes pheromone information about gender, reproductive status, genetic background and individual differences. It remains unknown how pheromone information interacts to trigger innate behaviors. In this study, we identify vomeronasal receptors responsible for detecting female pheromones. A sub-group of V1re clade members recognizes gender-identifying cues in female urine. Multiple members of the V1rj clade are cognate receptors for urinary estrus signals, as well as for sulfated estrogen (SE) compounds. In both cases, the same cue activates multiple homologous receptors, suggesting redundancy in encoding female pheromone cues. Neither gender-specific cues nor SEs alone are sufficient to promote courtship behavior in male mice, whereas robust courtship behavior can be induced when the two cues are applied together. Thus, integrated action of different female cues is required in pheromone-triggered mating behavior. These results suggest a gating mechanism in the vomeronasal circuit in promoting specific innate behavior.DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.7554/eLife.03025.001.