An immunogenetic basis for the high prevalence of urogenital cancer in a free-ranging population of California sea lions (Zalophus californianus)
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In response to an unprecedented prevalence of cancer recently identified in free-ranging populations of California sea lions [(CSL) (Zalophus californianus], we examined the role of the immunologically important major histocompatibility (MHC) genes in this disease epidemic. Associations between MHC genes and cancer have been well established in humans, but have never before been investigated in wildlife. Using a previously developed technique employing sequence-specific primer-based PCR with intercalating dye technology, MHC genotypes were examined from 27 cancer-positive and 22 cancer-negative CSL stranded along the California coastline. Analyses elucidated an underlying immunogenetic component to the high prevalence of urogenital cancer in sea lions. Furthermore, these results demonstrate the functional relevance of CSL class II MHC by revealing a non-random nature of cancer susceptibility associated with the presence of specific genes.