A functional ABCC11 allele is essential in the biochemical formation of human axillary odor

J Invest Dermatol. 2010 Feb;130(2):529-40. doi: 10.1038/jid.2009.254. Epub 2009 Aug 27.


The characteristic human axillary odor is formed by bacterial action on odor precursors that originate from apocrine sweat glands. Caucasians and Africans possess a strong axillary odor ,whereas many Asians have only a faint acidic odor. In this study, we provide evidence that the gene ABCC11 (MRP8), which encodes an apical efflux pump, is crucial for the formation of the characteristic axillary odor and that a single-nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) 538G --> A, which is prominent among Asian people, leads to a nearly complete loss of the typical odor components in axillary sweat. The secretion of amino-acid conjugates of human-specific odorants is abolished in homozygotic carriers of the SNP, and steroidal odorants and their putative precursors are significantly reduced. Moreover, we show that ABCC11 is expressed and localized in apocrine sweat glands. These data point to a key function of ABCC11 in the secretion of odorants and their precursors from apocrine sweat glands. SNP 538G --> A, which also determines human earwax type, is present on an extended haplotype, which has reached >95% frequency in certain populations in recent human evolution. A strong positive selection in mate choice for low-odorant partners with a dysfunctional ABCC11 gene seems a plausible explanation for this striking frequency of a loss-of-function allele.

MeSH terms

  • ATP-Binding Cassette Transporters / genetics*
  • Adult
  • Alleles*
  • Amino Acids / chemistry
  • Apocrine Glands / metabolism*
  • Axilla / physiology*
  • Female
  • Gene Expression Regulation
  • Haplotypes
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Odorants*
  • Polymorphism, Single Nucleotide
  • Sweat


  • ABCC11 protein, human
  • ATP-Binding Cassette Transporters
  • Amino Acids