New evidence that the MHC influences odor perception in humans: a study with 58 Southern Brazilian students

Horm Behav. 2005 Apr;47(4):384-8. doi: 10.1016/j.yhbeh.2004.11.005.


Increasing evidence suggests a correlation between mate choice, odor preference, and genetic similarity at the Major Histocompatibility Complex (MHC) in a variety of animals, including our species. The MHC is a highly polymorphic group of genes that play an important role in the immunological self/nonself recognition. Its products have been reported to take part on the variety of compounds and reactions that together build an individual's body odor. It has been suggested, therefore, that animals use body odor as a guide to identify possible mates as MHC-similar or MHC-dissimilar from their own genotype. Preference for a MHC-dissimilar partner enhances MHC heterozygosity of an individual's offspring. The possible adaptive advantages are clear: it is a mechanism of avoiding inbreeding and MHC-heterozygous offspring may have enhanced immunocompetence. The aim of this study was to search, in our species, new evidence on the correlation between specificities at HLA-A and HLA-B and assessments of pleasantness regarding specific body odors. HLA is the name for the human MHC. Four olfactory sessions were performed with 58 young Southern Brazilian students, in order to investigate whether assessments of pleasantness of body odors from individuals correlate to a person's HLA phenotype. Body odors were collected via sweat and urine from all participants. Women smelled and scored all male odor samples and men did the same with all female samples. We found a significant correlation only when female smellers evaluated male sweat odors.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Choice Behavior / physiology*
  • Female
  • HLA-A Antigens / genetics
  • HLA-A Antigens / physiology
  • HLA-B Antigens / genetics
  • HLA-B Antigens / physiology
  • Humans
  • Major Histocompatibility Complex / genetics*
  • Male
  • Odorants*
  • Sex Characteristics
  • Smell / genetics*
  • Sweat / physiology*
  • Urine / physiology


  • HLA-A Antigens
  • HLA-B Antigens