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Methods for MHC genotyping in non-model vertebrates


W. Babik, Fax: +48 12 664 69 12; E-mail:


Genes of the major histocompatibility complex (MHC) are considered a paradigm of adaptive evolution at the molecular level and as such are frequently investigated by evolutionary biologists and ecologists. Accurate genotyping is essential for understanding of the role that MHC variation plays in natural populations, but may be extremely challenging. Here, I discuss the DNA-based methods currently used for genotyping MHC in non-model vertebrates, as well as techniques likely to find widespread use in the future. I also highlight the aspects of MHC structure that are relevant for genotyping, and detail the challenges posed by the complex genomic organization and high sequence variation of MHC loci. Special emphasis is placed on designing appropriate PCR primers, accounting for artefacts and the problem of genotyping alleles from multiple, co-amplifying loci, a strategy which is frequently necessary due to the structure of the MHC. The suitability of typing techniques is compared in various research situations, strategies for efficient genotyping are discussed and areas of likely progress in future are identified. This review addresses the well established typing methods such as the Single Strand Conformation Polymorphism (SSCP), Denaturing Gradient Gel Electrophoresis (DGGE), Reference Strand Conformational Analysis (RSCA) and cloning of PCR products. In addition, it includes the intriguing possibility of direct amplicon sequencing followed by the computational inference of alleles and also next generation sequencing (NGS) technologies; the latter technique may, in the future, find widespread use in typing complex multilocus MHC systems.