The role and intensity of positive selection maintaining the polymorphism of major histocompatibility complex (MHC) class I genes in the three-spined stickleback Gasterosteus aculeatus was investigated. The highly polymorphic set of MHC class I genes found was organized in a single linkage group. Between 5 and 14 sequence variants per individual were identified by single-stranded conformation polymorphism (SSCP) analysis. Segregation analysis studied in 10 three-spined stickleback families followed the expected pattern of Mendelian inheritance. The gamete fusion in three-spined stickleback thus seems to be random with respect to the MHC class I genes. The DNA sequence analyses showed that the expressed MHC class I loci are under strong selection pressure, possibly mediated by parasites. Codons that were revealed to be under positive selection are potentially important in antigen binding. MHC class I sequences did not form significant supported clusters within a phylogenetic tree. Analogous to MHC class II genes, it was not possible to assign the class I sequences to a specific locus, suggesting that the class I genes may have been generated by recent gene duplication.