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Contrasting patterns of variation in MHC loci in the Alpine newt

Authors

  • W. BABIK,

    1. Department of Community Ecology, Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research — UFZ, Theodor-Lieser-Str. 4, 06120 Halle/Saale, Germany,
    2. Institute of Environmental Sciences, Jagiellonian University, Gronostajowa 7, 30-387 Kraków, Poland
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  • M. PABIJAN,

    1. Department of Comparative Anatomy, Institute of Zoology, Jagiellonian University, Ingardena 6, 30-060 Kraków, Poland,
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  • J. RADWAN

    1. Institute of Environmental Sciences, Jagiellonian University, Gronostajowa 7, 30-387 Kraków, Poland
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W. Babik, Fax: +48 12 664 69 12; E-mail: wieslaw.babik@uj.edu.pl

Abstract

Major histocompatibility complex (MHC) genes are essential in pathogen recognition and triggering an adaptive immune response. Although they are the most polymorphic genes in vertebrates, very little information on MHC variation and patterns of evolution are available for amphibians, a group known to be declining rapidly worldwide. As infectious diseases are invoked in the declines, information on MHC variation should contribute to devising appropriate conservation strategies. In this study, we examined MHC variation in 149 Alpine newts (Mesotriton alpestris) from three allopatric population groups in Poland at the northeastern margin of the distribution of this species. The genetic distinctiveness of the population groups has previously been shown by studies of skin graft rejection, allozymes and microsatellites. Two putative expressed MHC II loci with contrasting levels of variation and clear evidence of gene conversion/recombination between them were detected. The Meal-DAB locus is highly polymorphic (37 alleles), and shows evidence of historical positive selection for amino acid replacements and substantial geographical differentiation in allelic richness. On the contrary, the Meal-DBB locus exhibits low polymorphism (three alleles differing by up to two synonymous substitutions) and a uniform distribution of three alleles among geographical regions. The uniform frequencies of the presumptively neutral Meal-DBB alleles may be explained by linkage to Meal-DAB. We found differences in allelic richness in Meal-DAB between regions, consistent with the hypothesis that genetic drift prevails with increasing distance from glacial refugia. Pseudogene loci appear to have evolved neutrally. The level of DAB variation correlated with variation in microsatellite loci, implying that selection and drift interplayed to produce the pattern of MHC variation observed in marginal populations of the Alpine newt.

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