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Journal Article

Evidence for MHC-correlated perfume preferences in humans.


Milinski,  Manfred
Department Evolutionary Ecology, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology, Max Planck Society;

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Milinski, M., & Wedekind, C. (2001). Evidence for MHC-correlated perfume preferences in humans. Behavioral Ecology, 12(2), 140-149.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/11858/00-001M-0000-000F-DE9B-1
Fragrances have been used since at least 5000 years ago and all traditional scents are found in modern perfumes. Although perfumes are obviously involved in sexual communication, the significance of great individual differences in preference for fragrances is an evolutionary puzzle. The major histocompatibility complex (MHC) is a highly polymorphic and conserved set of genes that plays an important role in immune function in vertebrates. Both mice and humans have been shown to prefer die body odor of potential partners that have a dissimilar MHC genotype, which would result in heterozygous offspring. We tested whether individual preferences for perfume ingredients correlate with a person's MHC genotype. The human MHC is called HLA (human leukocyte antigen). A total of 137 male and female students who had been typed for their MHC (HLA-A, -B, -DR) scored 36 scents in a first test for use on self ("Would your like to smell like that yourself?") and a subset of 18 scents 2 years later either for use on self or for a potential partner ("Would you like your partner to smell like that?"). An overall analysis showed a significant correlation between the MHC and the scorings of the scents "for self" in both tests. In a detailed analysis we found a significant interaction of the two most common HLAs with the rating of the 36 scents in the first study as well as with the 18 scents in the second study when evaluated for self. This result suggests that persons who share, for example, HLA-A2, have a similar preference for any of the perfume ingredients. The significant repeatability of these preferences in the two tests showed that the volunteers that had either HLA-A1 or HLA-A2 were significantly consistent in their preferences for the perfume ingredients offered. Hardly any significant correlation between MHC genotype and ratings of the scents "for partner" were found. This agrees with the hypothesis that perfumes are selected "for self" to amplify in some wall body odors that reveal a person's immunogenetics