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Major Histocompatibility Complex (MHC)

  1. Dustin J Penn,
  2. Petteri Ilmonen

Published Online: 23 SEP 2005

DOI: 10.1038/npg.els.0003986



How to Cite

Penn, D. J. and Ilmonen, P. 2005. Major Histocompatibility Complex (MHC). eLS. .

Author Information

  1. Konrad Lorenz Institute for Ethology, Austrian Academy of Sciences, Vienna, Austria

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 23 SEP 2005


The major histocompatibility complex (MHC) contains the most diverse genes known in vertebrates, the class I and II loci. These highly polymorphic genes encode cell surface receptors that play a central role in controlling immunological self/nonself recognition, and subsequently, tissue rejection, autoimmunity and immune responses to infectious diseases. The polymorphisms of MHC genes have been maintained by natural selection over long periods of evolutionary time.


  • genetic diversity;
  • immunology;
  • host–parasite coevolution;
  • sexual selection