Suplementary text, tables and figures from Major histocompatibility complex-associated odour preferences and human mate choice: near and far horizons

The major histocompatibility complex (MHC) is a core part of the adaptive immune system. As in other vertebrate taxa, it may also affect human chemical communication via odour-based mate preferences, with greater attraction towards MHC-dissimilar partners. However, despite some well-known findings, the available evidence is equivocal and made complicated by varied approaches to quantifying human mate choice. To address this, we here conduct comprehensive meta-analyses focusing on studies assessing: (i) genomic mate selection, (ii) relationship satisfaction, (iii) odour preference, and (iv) all studies combined. Analysis of genomic studies reveals no association between MHC-dissimilarity and mate choice in actual couples; however, MHC effects appear to be independent of the genomic background. The effect of MHC-dissimilarity on relationship satisfaction was not significant, and we found evidence for publication bias in studies on this area. There was also no significant association between MHC-dissimilarity and odour preferences. Finally, combining effect sizes from all genomic, relationship satisfaction, odour preference and previous mate choice studies into an overall estimate showed no overall significant effect of MHC-similarity on human mate selection. Based on these findings, we make a set of recommendations for future studies, focusing both on aspects that should be implemented immediately and those that lurk on the far horizon. We need larger samples with greater geographical and cultural diversity that control for genome-wide similarity. We also need more focus on mechanisms of MHC-associated odour preferences and on MHC-associated pregnancy loss.This article is part of the Theo Murphy meeting issue ‘Chemical communication in humans’.