, Volume 56, Issue 6, pp 427-437
Date: 21 Aug 2004

Recent duplication and inter-locus gene conversion in major histocompatibility class II genes in a teleost, the three-spined stickleback

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Using a bacterial artificial chromosome (BAC) library, we analysed a 99.5 kb genomic segment containing the major histocompatibility class II genes of a teleost, the three-spined stickleback Gasterosteus aculeatus. Experiments with G. aculeatus have provided direct evidence for balancing selection by pathogens and mate choice driving MH class II beta polymorphism. Two sets of paralogous class II alpha genes and beta genes in a tandem arrangement were identified, designated Gaac-DAA/DAB and Gaac-DBA/DBB. Expression analysis of the beta genes using single-strand conformation polymorphism revealed that both gene copies are expressed. Based on an analysis of pairwise nucleotide polymorphisms, we estimate that the duplication into two paralogous class II loci occurred only 1.2–2.4 million years ago, 1–2 orders of magnitude more recently than in other fish, bird or mammalian species. At the 3′-direction of the classical MH loci, we identified another seven genes or gene fragments, two of which (small inducible cytokine, complement regulatory factor) are related to immune function in other vertebrates. None of these genes were associated with MH class II genes in zebrafish, suggesting a markedly different organisation of the MH class II region in sticklebacks, and presumably, across bony fishes. When the nucleotide substitution pattern of the novel class II beta genes was analysed together with a representative sequence sample isolated from fish in northern Germany (n=27), we found that the peptide binding region of the Gaac-DAB and Gaac-DBB loci had undergone an inter-locus gene conversion (P=0.007). In accordance, we found a 10- to 20-fold higher frequency of CpG-islands on the MH class II segment compared to other species, a feature that may be conducive for inter-locus recombination.