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Immunogenetics. 2008 Oct;60(10):621-31. doi: 10.1007/s00251-008-0314-2. Epub 2008 Jul 15.

MHC haplotype involvement in avian resistance to an ectoparasite.

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Department of Entomology, University of California, Riverside, CA, 92521, USA.


Research on immune function in evolutionary ecology has frequently focused on avian ectoparasites (e.g., mites and lice). However, host immunogenetics involved with bird resistance to ectoparasites has not been determined. The critical role of the major histocompatibility complex (MHC) in adaptive immunity and high genetic variation found within the MHC make this gene complex useful for exploring the immunogenetic basis for bird resistance to ectoparasites. The objective of this study was to determine if the avian MHC influenced resistance to a blood-feeding ectoparasite. Four congenic lines of chickens, differing only at the MHC, were comparatively infested with a cosmopolitan ectoparasite of birds-northern fowl mite (NFM)-which is also a serious pest species of poultry. Mite infestations were monitored over time and mite densities (weekly and maximum) were compared among lines. Chickens with the MHC haplotype B21 were relatively resistant to NFM, compared with birds in the B15 congenic line (P < 0.02). To test for similar effects in an outbred genetic background, a separate experiment was performed with 107 commercial chickens (white leghorn, W-36 strain) infested with NFM. Hens were genotyped using a MHC microsatellite marker (LEI0258) and associations between MHC haplotype and NFM density were tested. The highest peak NFM populations occurred more often on hens with the B15 haplotype versus the B21 haplotype (P = 0.012), which supported the results of the congenic study. These data indicate the avian MHC influences ectoparasite resistance, which is relevant to disease ecology and avian-ectoparasite interaction.

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