, Volume 39, Issue 1, pp 22-33

Exchanges of short polymorphic DNA segments predating speciation in feline major histocompatibility complex class I genes

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Sequence comparisons of 14 distinct MHC class I cDNA clones isolated from species representing the three major taxonomic lineages of Felidae (domestic cat lineage, ocelot lineage, and pantherine lineage) revealed that feline MHC class I alleles have highly mosaic structures with short polymorphic sequence motifs that are rearranged between alleles of individual MHC loci, between MHC class I genes within cat species, and between homologous MHC loci in different species. The pattern of sequence variation in felids supports the role of the following factors in production and maintenance of MHC variation: (1) gradual spontaneous mutation; (2) selective pressure to conserve certain residues but also to vary in hypervariable regions, notably residues that functionally participate in antigen recognition and presentation; and (3) recombination-mediated gene exchange between alleles and between related genes. The overall amount of genetic variation observed among MHC class I genes in the Felidae family is no greater than the amount of variation within any outbred cat species (i.e., domestic cat, ocelot). The occurrence of equivalent levels of polymorphism plus the simultaneous persistence of the same sequence motifs in divergent feline species suggest that most MHC class I nucleotide site polymorphism predated species divergences. Ancient polymorphisms have been transmitted through the speciation events and modern feline MHC class I alleles were derived by recombinational exchange of polymorphic sequence motifs. Moreover, some of these sequence motifs were found in other mammalian MHC class I genes, such as classical human HLA-B5, nonclassical human HLA-E class I genes, and bovine class I genes. These results raise the prospect of an ancient origin for some motifs, although the possibility of convergence in parallel mammalian radiations cannot be excluded.

Correspondence to: N. Yuhki