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Immunogenetics. 1996;44(6):419-31.

Evolution of MHC class II beta chain-encoding genes in the Lake Tana barbel species flock (Barbus intermedius complex).

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  • 1Department of Experimental Animal Morphology and Cell Biology, Wageningen Agricultural University, P. O. Box 338, 6700 AH Wageningen, The Netherlands.


Major histocompatibility complex (MHC) class II protein polymorphism is maintained in allelic lineages which evolve in a trans-specific manner, passing from one species to descendant species. Selection pressure on peptide binding residues should be greatest during speciation, when organisms move into new environments and their MHC molecules encounter new pathogens. The isolation of MHC genes from teleost fishes, the most diverse group of vertebrates, has created possibilities for testing this hypothesis. The large barbels of Lake Tana have undergone an adaptive radiation within the last 5 million years, producing 14 morphotypes which inhabit different ecological niches within the lake. We studied the variability in class II beta chain-encoding genes of four of these morphotypes using polymerase chain reaction amplification and DNA sequencing. The sequences obtained were orthologous to four of the known class II genes from the common carp, from which barbels diverged approximately 32 million years ago. When subjected to phylogenetic analysis, the 48 sequences clustered into groups which represent allelic lineages. A comparison of nonsynonymous and synonymous substitutions between the peptide binding region codons and non-peptide binding region codons of these sequences revealed that they are under strong selective pressure.

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