, Volume 43, Issue 3, pp 125-135

Characterization of Mhc genes in a multigenerational family of ring-necked pheasants

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Little is known about the major histocompatibility (Mhc) genes of birds in different taxonomic groups or about how Mhc genes may be organized in avian species divergent by evolution or habitat. Yet it seems likely that much might be learned from birds about the evolution, organization, and function of this intricate complex of polymorphic genes. In this study a close relative of the chicken, the ring-necked pheasant (Phasianus colchicus), was examined for the presence and organization of Mhc B-G genes. The patterns of restriction fragments revealed by chicken B-G probes in Southern hybridizations and the patterns of pheasant erythrocyte polypeptides revealed in immunoblots by antisera raised against chicken B-G polypeptides provide genetic, molecular, and biochemical data confirming earlier serological evidence for the presence of B-G genes in the pheasant, and hence, the presence of a family of B-G genes in at least a second species of birds. The high polymorphism exhibited by the pheasant B-G gene family allowed genetic differences among individuals within the small experimental population in this study to be detected easily by restriction fragment patterns. Further evidence was found for the organization of the pheasant Mhc class I and class II genes into genetically independent clusters. Whether these gene clusters are fully comparable to the B and Rfp-Y systems in the chicken or whether yet another organization of Mhc genes has been encountered in the pheasant remains to be determined.