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Proc Biol Sci. 2017 Dec 6;284(1868). pii: 20171824. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2017.1824.

Major histocompatibility complex-linked social signalling affects female fertility.

Author information

1
Swiss Institute of Equine Medicine, Agroscope and University of Berne, 1580 Avenches, Switzerland.
2
Department of Ecology and Evolution, Biophore, University of Lausanne, 1015 Lausanne, Switzerland.
3
Department of Clinical Research, Vetsuisse Faculty, University of Berne, 3012 Bern, Switzerland.
4
Clinic for Horses, Unit for Reproductive Medicine, University of Veterinary Medicine Hannover, 30559 Hannover, Germany.
5
Department of Computational Biology, Genopode, University of Lausanne, 1015 Lausanne, Switzerland.
6
Department of Ecology and Evolution, Biophore, University of Lausanne, 1015 Lausanne, Switzerland claus.wedekind@unil.ch.

Abstract

Genes of the major histocompatibility complex (MHC) have been shown to influence social signalling and mate preferences in many species, including humans. First observations suggest that MHC signalling may also affect female fertility. To test this hypothesis, we exposed 191 female horses (Equus caballus) to either an MHC-similar or an MHC-dissimilar stimulus male around the time of ovulation and conception. A within-subject experimental design controlled for non-MHC-linked male characteristics, and instrumental insemination with semen of other males (n = 106) controlled for potential confounding effects of semen or embryo characteristics. We found that females were more likely to become pregnant if exposed to an MHC-dissimilar than to an MHC-similar male, while overall genetic distance to the stimulus males (based on microsatellite markers on 20 chromosomes) had no effect. Our results demonstrate that early pregnancy failures can be due to maternal life-history decisions (cryptic female choice) influenced by MHC-linked social signalling.

KEYWORDS:

cryptic female choice; female reproductive strategy; fertility; major histocompatibility complex; mammals; sexual selection

PMID:
29212724
PMCID:
PMC5740280
[Available on 2018-12-06]
DOI:
10.1098/rspb.2017.1824

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