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Exp Clin Immunogenet. 1998;15(3):119-29.

The major histocompatibility complex and mate choice: inbreeding avoidance and selection of good genes.

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  • 1Anthropologisches Institut und Museum der Universit├Ąt Z├╝rich, Switzerland.

Abstract

It has been known for decades that MHC genes play a critical role in the cellular immune response, but only recent research has provided a better understanding of how these molecules might affect mate choice. Original studies in inbred mouse strains revealed that mate choice was influenced by MHC dissimilarity. Detection of MHC differences between individuals in these experiments was related to olfactory cues, primarily in urine. Recent studies in humans have shown an analogous picture of MHC-based mating. Taken together, these findings could support either the hypothesis of MHC-based inbreeding avoidance or the hypothesis of MHC-related avoidance of reproductive failure, since studies in mice, humans and pigtailed macaques have shown that parental sharing of certain MHC alleles correlates with frequent spontaneous abortion or prolonged intergestational intervals. Data from many mammalian species clearly demonstrate that reproductive failure occurs as a result of inbreeding. Therefore, MHC similarity might serve as an indicator of genome-wide relatedness. In contrast, increased fitness due to the presence of individual MHC alleles in a pathogenic environment could explain MHC-based selection of currently good genes. Specifically, the physical condition of long-living animals depends on the ability to respond to immunological challenge and an individual's MHC alleles determine the response, since, unlike the T cell receptors, MHC alleles are not somatically recombined. Therefore, sexual selection of condition-dependent traits during mate choice could be used to select successful MHC alleles, thereby providing offspring with a higher relative immunity in their pathogenic environment.

PMID:
9813409
[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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