Disassortative mating refers to the phenomenon in which individuals with dissimilar genotypes and/or phenotypes mate with one another more frequently than would be expected by chance. Although the existence of disassortative mating is well established in plant and animal species, the only documented example of negative assortment in humans involves dissimilarity at the major histocompatibility complex (MHC) locus. Previous studies investigating mating patterns at the MHC have been hampered by limited sample size and contradictory findings. Inspired by the sparse and conflicting evidence, we investigated the role that the MHC region played in human mate selection using genome-wide association data from 872 European American spouses from the Health and Retirement Study (HRS). First, we treated the MHC region as a whole, and investigated genomic similarity between spouses using three levels of genomic variation: single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), classical human leukocyte antigen (HLA) alleles (both four-digit and two-digit classifications), and amino acid polymorphisms. The extent of MHC dissimilarity between spouses was assessed using a permutation approach. Second, we investigated fine scale mating patterns by testing for deviations from random mating at individual SNPs, HLA genes, and amino acids in HLA molecules. Third, we assessed how extreme the spousal relatedness at the MHC region was compared to the rest of the genome, to distinguish the MHC-specific effects from genome-wide effects. We show that neither the MHC region, nor any single SNPs, classic HLA alleles, or amino acid polymorphisms within the MHC region, were significantly dissimilar between spouses relative to non-spouse pairs. However, dissimilarity in the MHC region was extreme relative to the rest of genome for both spousal and non-spouse pairs. Despite the long-standing controversy, our analyses did not support a significant role of MHC dissimilarity in human mate choice.
- Disassortative mating
- Human leukocyte antigen
- Major histocompatibility complex
- Mate selection
- Non-random mating