Contrasting patterns of selection acting on MHC class I and class II DRB genes in the Alpine marmot (Marmota marmota)


Jacek Radwan, Institute of Environmental Sciences, Jagiellonian University, Gronostajowa 7, 30-387 Kraków, Poland.
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The major histocompatibility complex (MHC) genes code for proteins that play a critical role in the immune system response. The MHC genes are among the most polymorphic genes in vertebrates, presumably due to balancing selection. The two MHC classes appear to differ in the rate of evolution, but the reasons for this variation are not well understood. Here, we investigate the level of polymorphism and the evolution of sequences that code for the peptide-binding regions of MHC class I and class II DRB genes in the Alpine marmot (Marmota marmota). We found evidence for four expressed MHC class I loci and two expressed MHC class II loci. MHC genes in marmots were characterized by low polymorphism, as one to eight alleles per putative locus were detected in 38 individuals from three French Alps populations. The generally limited degree of polymorphism, which was more pronounced in class I genes, is likely due to bottleneck the populations undergone. Additionally, gene duplication within each class might have compensated for the loss of polymorphism at particular loci. The two gene classes showed different patterns of evolution. The most polymorphic of the putative loci, Mama-DRB1, showed clear evidence of historical positive selection for amino acid replacements. However, no signal of positive selection was evident in the MHC class I genes. These contrasting patterns of sequence evolution may reflect differences in selection pressures acting on class I and class II genes.