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Major histocompatibility complex genes partly explain early survival in house sparrows

  • B. Lukasch
  • H. Westerdahl
  • M. Strandh
  • F. Knauer
  • H. Winkler
  • Yoshan Moodley
  • H Hoi
Publishing year: 2017-12-01
Language: English
Publication/Series: Scientific Reports
Volume: 7
Issue: 1
Document type: Journal article
Publisher: Nature Publishing Group

Abstract english

Environmental factors and genetic incompatibilities between parents have been suggested as important determinants for embryonic mortality and survival. The genetic set-up of the immune system, specifically the highly polymorphic major histocompatibility complex (MHC) may also influence individual resistance to infections. MHC proteins are important for an appropriate adaptive immune response and enable T-cells to separate 'self' from 'non-self'. Here we investigate the importance of MHC functional diversity for early development in birds, more specifically, if offspring survival and body mass or size depends on number of different functional MHC alleles, specific functional MHC alleles or similarity of MHC alleles in the parents. Unhatched eggs are common in clutches of many bird species. In house sparrows (Passer domesticus), embryo and nestling mortality can exceed 50%. To control for environmental factors, our study was carried out on an aviary population. We found that one specific functional MHC allele was associated with reduced nestling survival, which was additionally supported by lower body mass and a smaller tarsus when nestlings have been 6 days old. Another allele was positively associated with tarsus length at a later nestling stage (nestlings 12 days old). These results indicate that MHC alleles might influence pathogen resistance or susceptibility.


  • Ecology


  • Molecular Ecology and Evolution Lab
  • ISSN: 2045-2322
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