International Journal of Primatology

, Volume 35, Issue 1, pp 11–31 | Cite as

The Major Histocompatibility Complex and Primate Behavioral Ecology: New Tools and Future Questions



Since the serendipitous discovery of the effect of the major histocompatibility complex (MHC) on mate choice in laboratory mice nearly 40 yr ago, there has been sustained interest in the role that MHC genes may play in vertebrate sexual behavior. However, the challenges posed by MHC genotyping have long hampered progress in this area. We briefly introduce the documented links between MHC and behavior, before presenting an overview of the genotyping methods that were available before the introduction of new sequencing technologies. We then clarify why next-generation sequencing represents a major breakthrough in MHC genotyping by reviewing the recent successes —and pitfalls— of pioneer studies applying these techniques, before envisioning their revolutionary implications for future MHC studies in evolutionary ecology and primatology. We hope that our practical guidance to the design of MHC-based projects will promote and facilitate the integration of a MHC component into the research agendas of primatologists.


Kin discrimination major histocompatibility complex mate choice MHC genotyping next-generation sequencing primates sexual behavior 


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© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of ZoologyUniversity of CambridgeCambridgeUK
  2. 2.Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology UnitGerman Primate CenterGöttingenGermany

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