, Volume 104, Issue 3, pp 191–197 | Cite as

Olfactory cues associated with the major histocompatibility complex

  • Frank Eggert
  • Wolfgang Müller‐ruchholtz
  • Roman Ferstl


Besides its immunological function of self/non‐self discrimination the major histocompatibility complex (MHC) has been recognized as a possible source of individual specific body odors. Dating back to speculations on the role of the extraordinary polymorphism of the MHC as background of an individual chemosensory identity and to early observations of MHC‐dependent mate choice in inbred strains of mice, systematic experimental studies revealed a first evidence for H‐2 related body odors in this species. Meanwhile a large number of animal studies with rodents and a series of field studies and experiments with humans have extended our knowledge of MHC‐related odor signals and substantiated the hypothesis of immunogenetic associated odortypes. These results suggest that the most prominent feature of the MHC, its extraordinary genetic diversity, seems in part to be selectively maintained by behavioral mechanisms which operate in contemporary natural populations. The high degree of heterozygosity found in natural populations of most species seems to be promoted by non‐disease‐based selection such as mating preferences and selective block of pregnancy.

immune system MHC olfactory cues reproductive behavior kin recognition 


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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1998

Authors and Affiliations

  • Frank Eggert
    • 1
  • Wolfgang Müller‐ruchholtz
    • 2
  • Roman Ferstl
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of Kiel, D‐KielGermany
  2. 2.Department of ImmunologyUniversity of Kiel, D‐KielGermany

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