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Immunogenetics. 2011 Apr;63(4):223-33. doi: 10.1007/s00251-010-0503-7. Epub 2011 Jan 11.

Characterisation of class II B MHC genes from a ratite bird, the little spotted kiwi (Apteryx owenii).

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Allan Wilson Centre for Molecular Ecology and Evolution, School of Biological Sciences, Victoria University of Wellington, PO Box 600, Wellington, New Zealand.


Major histocompatibility complex (MHC) genes are important for vertebrate immune response and typically display high levels of diversity due to balancing selection from exposure to diverse pathogens. An understanding of the structure of the MHC region and diversity among functional MHC genes is critical to understanding the evolution of the MHC and species resilience to disease exposure. In this study, we characterise the structure and diversity of class II MHC genes in little spotted kiwi Apteryx owenii, a ratite bird representing the basal avian lineage (paleognaths). Results indicate that little spotted kiwi have a more complex MHC structure than that of other non-passerine birds, with at least five class II MHC genes, three of which are expressed and likely to be functional. Levels of MHC variation among little spotted kiwi are extremely low, with 13 birds assayed having nearly identical MHC genotypes (only two genotypes containing four alleles, three of which are fixed). These results suggest that recent genetic drift due to a species-wide bottleneck of at most seven birds has overwhelmed past selection for high MHC diversity in little spotted kiwi, potentially leaving the species highly susceptible to disease.

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