Common HLA alleles associated with health, but not with facial attractiveness

Vinet Coetzee, L. Barrett, J.M. Greeff, S.P. Henzi, David Ian Perrett, A.A. Wadee

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20 Citations (Scopus)


Three adaptive hypotheses have been proposed to explain the link between the human leucocyte antigen (HLA) genes, health measures and facial attractiveness: inbreeding avoidance, heterozygote advantage and frequency-dependent selection. This paper reports findings that support a new hypothesis relating HLA to health. We suggest a new method to quantify the level of heterozygosity. HLA heterozygosity did not significantly predict health measures in women, but allele frequency did. Women with more common HLA alleles reported fewer cold and flu bouts per year, fewer illnesses in the previous year and rated themselves healthier than women with rare alleles. To our knowledge, this is the first study to show a positive correlation between HLA allele frequency and general health measures. We propose that certain common HLA alleles confer resistance to prevalent pathogens. Nevertheless, neither HLA heterozygosity nor allele frequency significantly predicted how healthy or attractive men rated the female volunteers. Three non-mutually exclusive explanations are put forward to explain this finding.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere640
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2007


  • Human leucocyte antigen (HLA) genes
  • Health measures
  • Facial attractiveness
  • Inbreeding avoidance
  • Heterozygote advantage
  • Frequency-dependent selection


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