MHC-Dependent Mate Preferences in Humans

Claus Wedekind, Thomas Seebeck, Florence Bettens, Alexander J. Paepke

Abstract

One substantial benefit of sexual reproduction could be that it allows animals (including humans) to react rapidly to a continuously changing environmental selection pressure such as coevolving parasites. This counteraction would be most efficient if the females were able to provide their progeny with certain allele combinations for loci which may be crucial in the parasite-host arms race, for example the MHC (major histocompatibility complex). Here we show that the MHC influences both body odours and body odour preferences in humans, and that the women's preferences depend on their hormonal status. Female and male students were typed for their HLA-A, -B and -DR. Each male student wore a T-shirt for two consecutive nights. The next day, each female student was asked to rate the odours of six T-shirts. They scored male body odours as more pleasant when they differed from the men in their MHC than when they were more similar. This difference in odour assessment was reversed when the women rating the odours were taking oral contraceptives. Furthermore, the odours of MHC-dissimilar men remind the test women more often of their own actual or former mates than do the odours of MHC-similar men. This suggests that the MHC or linked genes influence human mate choice today.