A human axillary odorant is carried by apolipoprotein D

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1996 Jun 25;93(13):6626-30. doi: 10.1073/pnas.93.13.6626.


The characterization of the source of the odor in the human axillary region is not only of commercial interest but is also important biologically because axillary extracts can alter the length and timing of the female menstrual cycle. In males, the most abundant odor component is known to be E-3-methyl-2-hexenoic acid (E-3M2H), which is liberated from nonodorous apocrine secretions by axillary microorganisms. Recently, it was found that in the apocrine gland secretions, 3M2H is carried to the skin surface bound to two proteins, apocrine secretion odor-binding proteins 1 and 2 (ASOB1 and ASOB2) with apparent molecular masses of 45 kDa and 26 kDa, respectively. To better understand the formation of axillary odors and the structural relationship between 3M2H and its carrier protein, the amino acid sequence and glycosylation pattern of ASOB2 were determined by mass spectrometry. The ASOB2 protein was identified as apolipoprotein D (apoD), a known member of the alpha2mu-microglobulin superfamily of carrier proteins also known as lipocalins. The pattern of glycosylation for axillary apoD differs from that reported for plasma apoD, suggesting different sites of expression for the two glycoproteins. In situ hybridization of an oligonucleotide probe against apoD mRNA with axillary tissue demonstrates that the message for synthesis of this protein is specific to the apocrine glands. These results suggest a remarkable similarity between human axillary secretions and nonhuman mammalian odor sources, where lipocalins have been shown to carry the odoriferous signals used in pheromonal communication.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Apocrine Glands / metabolism*
  • Apolipoproteins / chemistry
  • Apolipoproteins / genetics
  • Apolipoproteins / metabolism*
  • Apolipoproteins D
  • Axilla*
  • Carbohydrate Sequence
  • Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry
  • Glycosylation
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Odorants*
  • Protein Binding
  • Proteins / chemistry
  • Proteins / metabolism*
  • RNA, Messenger / genetics
  • RNA, Messenger / metabolism
  • Spectrometry, Mass, Matrix-Assisted Laser Desorption-Ionization


  • Apolipoproteins
  • Apolipoproteins D
  • Proteins
  • RNA, Messenger