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Passerine MHC: genetic variation and disease resistance in the wild

  • Helena Westerdahl
Publishing year: 2007
Language: English
Pages: 469-477
Publication/Series: Journal für Ornithologie1852-12-31+01:002004-01-01+01:00
Volume: 148
Document type: Journal article
Publisher: Springer

Abstract english

The passerine major histocompatibility complex (MHC) class I and IIB genes are different from those of the avian model species the chicken because passerines have (1) a larger number of MHC genes, (2) MHC genes with longer introns, and (3) MHC genes that are pseudo-genes. Most passerine MHC genes are transcribed (coding), extremely variable and subject to balancing selection. The high genetic diversity of the MHC genes of passerines is most likely maintained by selection from a large number of different pathogens. Association between MHC alleles and resistance to avian malaria infections have been reported in House Sparrows and Great Reed Warblers. Passerines are infected by a large number of different avian malaria infections. Therefore passerines and avian malaria is a study system that is well-suited to investigations of balancing selection and associations between MHC genes and disease resistance.


  • Biological Sciences
  • MHC class I and class II
  • passerines
  • Avian
  • balancing selection
  • disease resistance
  • malaria


  • Avian MHC genes
  • Molecular Ecology and Evolution Lab
  • ISSN: 1439-0361
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