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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1991 Aug 1;88(15):6716-20.

Role of diversifying selection and gene conversion in evolution of major histocompatibility complex loci.

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National Institute of Genetics, Mishima, Japan.


Genes at the major histocompatibility complex (MHC) in mammals are known to have exceptionally high polymorphism and linkage disequilibrium. In addition, these genes form highly complicated gene families that have evolved through gene conversion and unequal crossing-over. It has been shown recently that amino acid substitution at the antigen recognition site (ARS) is more rapid than synonymous substitution, suggesting some kind of positive natural selection working at the ARS. It is highly desirable to know the interactive effect of gene conversion and natural selection on the evolution and variation of MHC gene families. A population genetic model is constructed that incorporates both selection and gene conversion. Diversifying selection is assumed in which sequence diversity is enhanced not only between alleles at the same locus but also between duplicated genes. Expressed and nonexpressed loci are assumed as in the class I gene family of MHC, with gene conversion occurring among all loci. Extensive simulation studies reveal that very weak selection at individual amino acid sites in combination with gene conversion can explain the unusual pattern of evolution and polymorphisms. Here both gene conversion and natural selection contribute to enhancing polymorphism.

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