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Immunogenetics. 2012 Jul;64(7):525-33. doi: 10.1007/s00251-012-0614-4. Epub 2012 Mar 31.

Low MHC class II diversity in the Tasmanian devil (Sarcophilus harrisii).

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Faculty of Veterinary Science, University of Sydney, RMC Gunn B19, Sydney, NSW 2006, Australia.


The largest remaining carnivorous marsupial, the Tasmanian devil (Sarcophilus harrisii), is currently under threat of extinction due to a fatal contagious cancer-devil facial tumour disease. Low major histocompatibility complex (MHC) class I diversity is believed to have contributed to the transmission of the tumour allograft through devil populations. Here, we report low MHC class II variability in this species, with DA β chain genes (Saha-DAB1, 2 and 3) exhibiting very limited diversity and the sole α chain gene (Saha-DAA) monomorphic. Three, six and three alleles were found at Saha-DAB1, 2 and 3, respectively, with a predominant allele found at each locus. Heterozygosity at these three loci is low in the eastern population and modestly higher in northwestern individuals. The results are indicative of a selective sweep likely due to an infectious disease resulting in the fixation of selectively favoured alleles and depletion of genetic diversity at devil class II loci. Several attempts were made to isolate the other marsupial classical class II gene family, namely, DB, resulting in only one DBB pseudogene being found. These findings further support the view that this species has a compromised capacity to respond to pathogen evolution, emerging infectious diseases and environmental changes.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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