Article

Major histocompatibility complex-associated odour preferences and human mate choice: near and far horizons

Citation

Havlicek J, Winternitz J & Roberts SC (2020) Major histocompatibility complex-associated odour preferences and human mate choice: near and far horizons. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 375 (1800), Art. No.: 20190260. https://doi.org/10.1098/rstb.2019.0260

Abstract
The major histocompatibility complex (MHC) is a core part of the adaptive immune system. As in other vertebrate taxa, it may also affect human chemical communication via odour-based mate preferences, with greater attraction towards MHC-dissimilar partners. However, despite some well-known findings, the available evidence is equivocal and made complicated by varied approaches to quantifying human mate choice. To address this, we here conduct comprehensive meta-analyses focusing on studies assessing i] genomic mate selection, ii] relationship satisfaction and iii] odour preference. Analysis of genomic studies reveals no association between MHC-dissimilarity and mate choice in actual couples; however, MHC effects appear to be independent of genomic background. The effect of MHC-dissimilarity on relationship satisfaction was not significant and we found evidence for publication bias in studies on this area. There was also no significant association between MHC-dissimilarity and odour preferences. Finally, combining effect sizes from all genomic, relationship satisfaction, odour preference and previous mate choice studies into an overall estimate showed no overall significant effect of MHC similarity on human mate selection. Based on these findings, we make a set of recommendations for future studies, focusing both on aspects that should be implemented immediately and those that lurk on the far horizon. We need larger samples with greater geographical and cultural diversity, that control for genome-wide similarity. We also need more focus on mechanisms of MHC-associated odour preferences and on MHC-associated pregnancy loss.

Keywords
HLA; complementary genes; inbreeding; sexual selection; attractiveness; body odour

Journal
Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences: Volume 375, Issue 1800

StatusPublished
Publication date30/06/2020
Publication date online20/04/2020
Date accepted by journal16/10/2019
URLhttp://hdl.handle.net/1893/30507
ISSN0962-8436
eISSN1471-2970