Characterization of volatile organic compounds in human leukocyte antigen heterologous expression systems: a cell's "chemical odor fingerprint"

Chembiochem. 2012 May 7;13(7):1053-9. doi: 10.1002/cbic.201200011. Epub 2012 Apr 4.


The major histocompatibility complex (MHC), or human leukocyte antigen (HLA) gene-coding region in humans, plays a significant role in infectious disease response, autoimmunity, and cellular recognition. This super locus is essential in mate selection and kin recognition because of the organism-specific odor which can be perceived by other individuals. However, how the unique MHC genetic combination of an organism correlates with generation of the organism-specific odor is not well understood. In the present work, we have shown that human B-cells produce a set of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that can be measured by GC-MS. More importantly, our results show that specific HLA alleles are related to production of selected VOCs, and that this leads to a cell-specific odor "fingerprint". We used a C1R HLA class I A and B locus negative cell line, along with C1R cell lines that were stably transfected with specific A and B alleles. Our work demonstrates for the first time that HLA alleles can directly influence production of specific odor compounds at the cellular level. Given that the resulting odor fingerprint depends on expression of specific HLA sequences, it may yield information on unique human scent profiles, composition of exhaled breath, as well as immune response states in future studies.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Breath Tests / methods
  • Cell Line
  • Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry
  • HLA Antigens / chemistry*
  • HLA Antigens / genetics
  • HLA Antigens / immunology
  • Histocompatibility Antigens Class I / chemistry*
  • Histocompatibility Antigens Class I / genetics
  • Histocompatibility Antigens Class I / immunology
  • Humans
  • Odorants
  • Transfection
  • Volatile Organic Compounds / chemistry*
  • Volatile Organic Compounds / metabolism


  • HLA Antigens
  • Histocompatibility Antigens Class I
  • Volatile Organic Compounds