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Polymorphism and transcription of Mhc class I genes in a passerine bird, the great reed warbler

  • Helena Westerdahl
  • Håkan Wittzell
  • Torbjörn von Schantz
Publishing year: 1999
Language: English
Pages: 158-170
Publication/Series: Immunogenetics
Volume: 49
Issue: 3
Document type: Journal article
Publisher: Springer

Abstract english

The class I genes of the major histocompatibility complex (Mhc) are here investigated for the first time in a passerine bird. The great reed warbler is a rare species in Sweden with a few semi-isolated populations. Yet, we found extensive Mhc class I variation in the study population. The variable exon 3, corresponding to the alpha(2) domain, was amplified from genomic DNA with degenerated primers. Seven different genomic class I sequences were detected in a single individual. One of the sequences had a deletion leading to a shift in the reading frame, indicating that it was not a functional gene. A randomly selected clone was used as a probe for restriction fragment length polymorphism (RFLP) studies in combination with the restriction enzyme Pvu II. The RFLP pattern was complex with 21-25 RFLP fragments per individual and extensive variation. Forty-nine RFLP genotypes were detected in 55 tested individuals. To study the number of transcribed genes, we isolated 14 Mhc class I clones from a cDNA library from a single individual. We found eight different sequences of four different lengths (1.3-2.2 kilobases), suggesting there are at least four transcribed loci. The number of nonsynonymous substitutions (d(N)) in the peptide binding region of exon 3 were higher than the number of synonymous substitutions (d(S)), indicating balancing selection in this region. The number of transcribed genes and the numerous RFLP fragments found so far suggest that the great reed warbler does not have a "minimal essential Mhc" as has been suggested for the chicken.


  • Biological Sciences
  • evolution
  • recognition
  • b-gene
  • chicken mhc
  • nucleolar organizer
  • overdominant selection
  • nucleotide substitution
  • acrocephalus-arundinaceus
  • rfp-y
  • major histocompatibility complex
  • passeriformes
  • great reed warbler
  • transcription
  • Mhc class I genes
  • polymorphism


  • Long-term study of great reed warblers
  • Avian MHC genes
  • 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