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Characterization of MHC-I in the blue tit (Cyanistes caeruleus) reveals low levels of genetic diversity and trans-population evolution across European populations

  • Elske Schut
  • Juan Rivero-de Aguilar
  • Santiago Merino
  • Michael J. L. Magrath
  • Jan Komdeur
  • Helena Westerdahl
Publishing year: 2011
Language: English
Pages: 531-542
Publication/Series: Immunogenetics
Volume: 63
Issue: 8
Document type: Journal article
Publisher: Springer

Abstract english

The major histcompatibility complex (MHC) is a vital component of the adaptive immune system in all vertebrates. This study is the first to characterize MHC class I (MHC-I) in blue tits (Cyanistes caeruleus), and we use MHC-I exon 3 sequence data from individuals originating from three locations across Europe: Spain, the Netherlands to Sweden. Our phylogeny of the 17 blue tit MHC-I alleles contains one allele cluster with low nucleotide diversity compared to the remaining more diverse alleles. We found a significant evidence for balancing selection in the peptide-binding region in the diverse allele group only. No separation according to geographic location was found in the phylogeny of alleles. Although the number of MHC-I loci of the blue tit is comparable to that of other passerine species, the nucleotide diversity of MHC-I appears to be much lower than that of other passerine species, including the closely related great tit (Parus major) and the severely inbred Seychelles warbler (Acrocephalus sechellensis). We believe that this initial MHC-I characterization in blue tits provides an important step towards understanding the mechanisms shaping MHC-I diversity in natural populations.


  • Biological Sciences
  • MHC class I
  • Antigen recognition site
  • Cloning and sequencing
  • Blue tit
  • (Cyanistes caeruleus
  • Parus caeruleus)
  • Specific immune system


  • Molecular Ecology and Evolution Lab
  • ISSN: 1432-1211
Helena Westerdahl
E-mail: helena [dot] westerdahl [at] biol [dot] lu [dot] se

Senior lecturer


+46 46 222 36 69



Research group

Molecular Ecology and Evolution Lab


Doctoral students and postdocs

Research fellows


Luz Garcia-Longoria

PhD students, main supervisor

Samantha Mellinger

PhD students, assistant supervisor

Gustaf Ekelund Ugge

Helena Westerdahl w house sparrow