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Nature. 1988 Sep 15;335(6187):268-71.

HLA-A and B polymorphisms predate the divergence of humans and chimpanzees.

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Department of Cell Biology, Stanford University Medical School, California 94305.


Major histocompatibility complex (MHC) glycoproteins bind processed fragments of proteins and present them to the receptors of T lymphocytes. The extraordinary polymorphism of class I MHC molecules in man (HLA-A, B and C) and mouse (H-2 K, D and L) poses many questions concerning their diversification and evolution. Comparison of allelic sequences within a species suggests diversity is generated by the assortment of point mutations into varied combinations by mechanisms of recombination and gene conversion. We have now compared class I MHC alleles in two closely related species: humans (Homo sapiens) and chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes). Chimpanzee homologues of HLA-A, HLA-B and a non-classical gene have been identified. No features distinguishing human and chimpanzee alleles could be found. Individual HLA-A or B alleles are more closely related to individual chimpanzee alleles than to other HLA-A or B alleles. These results show that a considerable proportion of contemporary HLA-A and B polymorphism existed before divergence of the chimpanzee and human lines. The stability of the polymorphism indicates that hyper-mutational mechanisms are not necessary to account for HLA-A, B and C diversity.

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