The ABCC11 gene determines both the type of earwax a person has and their armpit odor. A single alteration in the DNA of this gene can cause the gene to stop working, resulting in a person’s lack of body odor.
This article explains what the ABCC11 gene does and how to check your 23andMe or AncestryDNA raw data.
ABCC11: the “no body odor gene”
In a nutshell:
- People with the ABCC11 non-functioning gene variant have dry earwax and little or no body odor.
- People with a functioning ABCC11 gene usually have wet earwax and body odor.
Genetic variants that cause a loss of function of the ABCC11 gene are very common among East Asian populations (80-90% of the population).
In other population groups, it is rare to have no body odor. In fact, only around 2% of Caucasians carry the ‘no body odor’ version of the gene.
What does the ABCC11 gene do?
The ABCC11 gene (ATP-binding cassette transporter, sub-family C member 11) encodes a protein involved in transporting molecules across cellular membranes.
ABCC11 is required for the transport of lipophilic substances, bile acids, conjugated steroids, and – most importantly – the component found in apocrine sweat and earwax, which results in odor and wet earwax.
The transporter doesn’t work for people who have loss-of-function genetic variants and thus doesn’t transfer the odor-causing lipids into their armpits. No body odor!
What else is this gene important for?
Variants of this gene are also involved in resistance to antiviral and anticancer drugs.[ref]
The common genetic variant that causes body odor also causes an increase in sweat from the armpits.[ref]
In Japanese men, carrying the allele associated with wet earwax is linked with an increased risk of hidradenitis suppurativa.[ref]
Do you need to wear deodorant if you have the ABCC11 ‘no stink’ variant?
In general people with the non-functioning ABCC11 variant don’t need to wear deodorant.
A few years ago, Scientific American published an interesting piece about how people who genetically don’t have smelly pits often unnecessarily still wear deodorant.[ref]
Other research showed that those with the ‘no body odor’ variant sometimes had other sources of body odor or social reasons for wearing deodorant.[ref]
Genetics: How to find your ABCC11 gene variant
Check your genetic data for rs17822931 538A>G (23andMe v4, v5; AncestryDNA):
- C/C: wet earwax, body odor, and normal colostrum[ref][ref]
- C/T: wet earwax, somewhat less body odor
- T/T: dry earwax, no body odor, and less colostrum
Members: Your genotype for rs17822931 is —.
The frequency of the alleles varies greatly according to ethnic background.
For example, the vast majority of people in Korea have the T/T genotype with no body odor.
The flip side is that very few Caucasians in the UK have the T/T genotype:
In addition to the ‘no body odor’ variant, an additional variant in the gene is related to serious side effects from a certain chemotherapy drug. Keep in mind that the function of the ABCC11 gene is to transport certain molecules across the cell membrane. In this case, the variant causes the transport of the metabolite of a chemotherapy drug not to work correctly, increasing side effects.[ref]
Check your genetic data for rs17822471 (23andMe v4, v5):
- A/A: associated with 5-fluorouracil toxicity[ref][ref]
- A/G: associated with 5-fluorouracil toxicity
- G/G: typical
Members: Your genotype for rs17822471 is —.
Chemotherapy and cancer:
Changes in the ABCC11 gene may impact your reaction to a type of chemotherapy drug called fluorouracil.[ref] Talk with your doctor if you have concerns here.
Members’ Blueprint: Next Steps and Further Solutions for Members
Diet and Supplements:
Hey! Want to go further with your genetic raw data? Join as a Member!
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23andMe. https://auth.23andme.com/login/?next=https%3A//auth.23andme.com/authorize/%3Fredirect_uri%3Dhttps%253A%252F%252Fyou.23andme.com%252Fauth_callback%252F%26response_type%3Dcode%26client_id%3Dyou%26scope%3Dopenid%2Bancestry%2Bbasic%2Bhaplogroups%2Bnames%2Bphenotypes%253Aread%253Aall%26state%3D%257B%2522origin_uri%2522%253A%2B%2522%252Ftools%252Fdata%252F%253Fquery%253Drs17822931%2522%257D. Accessed 10 Nov. 2021.
Arlanov, R., et al. “Functional Characterization of Common Protein Variants in the Efflux Transporter ABCC11 and Identification of T546M as Functionally Damaging Variant.” The Pharmacogenomics Journal, vol. 16, no. 2, Apr. 2016, pp. 193–201. PubMed, https://doi.org/10.1038/tpj.2015.27.
Harker, Mark, et al. “Functional Characterisation of a SNP in the ABCC11 Allele – Effects on Axillary Skin Metabolism, Odour Generation and Associated Behaviours.” Journal of Dermatological Science, vol. 73, no. 1, Jan. 2014, pp. 23–30. PubMed, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jdermsci.2013.08.016.
Ishiguro, Junko, et al. “A Functional Single Nucleotide Polymorphism in ABCC11, Rs17822931, Is Associated with the Risk of Breast Cancer in Japanese.” Carcinogenesis, vol. 40, no. 4, June 2019, pp. 537–43. PubMed, https://doi.org/10.1093/carcin/bgz005.
Ishikawa, Toshihisa, et al. “Pharmacogenetics of Human ABC Transporter ABCC11: New Insights into Apocrine Gland Growth and Metabolite Secretion.” Frontiers in Genetics, vol. 3, Jan. 2013, p. 306. PubMed Central, https://doi.org/10.3389/fgene.2012.00306.
Lang, Thomas, et al. “The Earwax-Associated SNP c.538G>A (G180R) in ABCC11 Is Not Associated with Breast Cancer Risk in Europeans.” Breast Cancer Research and Treatment, vol. 129, no. 3, Oct. 2011, pp. 993–99. PubMed, https://doi.org/10.1007/s10549-011-1613-0.
Magdy, Tarek, et al. “ABCC11/MRP8 Polymorphisms Affect 5-Fluorouracil-Induced Severe Toxicity and Hepatic Expression.” Pharmacogenomics, vol. 14, no. 12, Sept. 2013, pp. 1433–48. PubMed, https://doi.org/10.2217/pgs.13.139.
Matsumoto, Hirofumi, et al. “ABCC11/MRP8 Expression in the Gastrointestinal Tract and a Novel Role for Pepsinogen Secretion.” Acta Histochemica Et Cytochemica, vol. 47, no. 3, June 2014, pp. 85–94. PubMed, https://doi.org/10.1267/ahc.13040.
Miura, Kiyonori, et al. “A Strong Association between Human Earwax-Type and Apocrine Colostrum Secretion from the Mammary Gland.” Human Genetics, vol. 121, no. 5, June 2007, pp. 631–33. PubMed, https://doi.org/10.1007/s00439-007-0356-9.
Ota, Ikuko, et al. “Association between Breast Cancer Risk and the Wild-Type Allele of Human ABC Transporter ABCC11.” Anticancer Research, vol. 30, no. 12, Dec. 2010, pp. 5189–94.
Shibuya, Yuka, et al. “Earwax of Patients with Hidradenitis Suppurativa: A Retrospective Study.” Archives of Plastic Surgery, vol. 46, no. 6, Nov. 2019, pp. 566–71. PubMed, https://doi.org/10.5999/aps.2019.00290.
Toyoda, Yu, et al. “Diagnosis of Human Axillary Osmidrosis by Genotyping of the Human ABCC11 Gene: Clinical Practice and Basic Scientific Evidence.” BioMed Research International, vol. 2016, Feb. 2016, p. e7670483. www.hindawi.com, https://doi.org/10.1155/2016/7670483.
Debbie Moon is the founder of Genetic Lifehacks. Fascinated by the connections between genes, diet, and health, her goal is to help you understand how to apply genetics to your diet and lifestyle decisions. Debbie has a BS in engineering and an MSc in biological sciences from Clemson University. Debbie combines an engineering mindset with a biological systems approach to help you understand how genetic differences impact your optimal health.