Numerous studies have shown that there are measurable behavioural consequences that can result from the olfactory recognition of alleles borne at the major histocompatibility complex (MHC). These consequences include simple individual recognition, disassortative mate preference, discrimination of kin from non-kin and whether a pregnancy is carried to term. Such a system, which can influence the reproductive behaviour of a species, will have profound effects on its genetic constitution and survival. The likely mechanism responsible for the production of MHC-related odours involves soluble MHC molecules that carry allele-specific odoriferous molecules from the blood via the kidneys into the urine, from where they are released into the environment. The ability of soluble MHC molecules to signal genetic individuality in this way may have evolved before the appearance of an acquired immune system in our immediate ancestors, the protochordates.
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