The repertoire of MHC class I genes in the common marmoset: evidence for functional plasticity
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In humans, the classical antigen presentation function of major histocompatibility complex (MHC) class I molecules is controlled by the human leukocyte antigen HLA -A, HLA-B and HLA-C loci. A similar observation has been made for great apes and Old World monkey species. In contrast, a New World monkey species such as the cotton-top tamarin (Saguinus oedipus) appears to employ the G locus for its classical antigen presentation function. At present, little is known about the classical MHC class I repertoire of the common marmoset (Callithrix jacchus), another New World monkey that is widely used in biomedical research. In the present population study, no evidence has been found for abundant transcription of classical I class genes. However, in each common marmoset, four to seven different G-like alleles were detected, suggesting that the ancestral locus has been subject to expansion. Segregation studies provided evidence for at least two G-like genes present per haplotype, which are transcribed by a variety of cell types. The alleles of these Caja-G genes cluster in separate lineages, suggesting that the loci diversified considerably after duplication. Phylogenetic analyses of the introns confirm that the Caja-G loci cluster in the vicinity of HLA-G, indicating that both genes shared an ancestor. In contrast to HLA-G, Caja-G shows considerable polymorphism at the peptide-binding sites. This observation, together with the lack of detectable transcripts of A and B-like genes, indicates that Caja-G genes have taken over the function of classical class I genes. These data highlight the extreme plasticity of the MHC class I gene system.
KeywordsNonhuman primates MHC New World monkey Common marmoset Evolution
The authors would like to thank Ms. Donna Devine for editing the manuscript and Henk van Westbroek for preparing the figures. The research was financed by the Biomedical Primate Research Centre.
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