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MHC class I typing in a songbird with numerous loci and high polymorphism using motif-specific PCR and DGGE

  • Helena Westerdahl
  • Håkan Wittzell
  • Torbjörn von Schantz
  • Staffan Bensch
Publishing year: 2004
Language: English
Pages: 534-542
Publication/Series: Heredity
Volume: 92
Issue: 6
Document type: Journal article
Publisher: Macmillan

Abstract english

The major histocompatibility complex (MHC) has a central role in the specific immune defence of vertebrates. Exon 3 of MHC class I genes encodes the domain that binds and presents peptides from pathogens that trigger immune reactions. Here we develop a fast population screening method for detecting genetic variation in the MHC class I genes of birds. We found evidence of at least 15 exon 3 sequences in the investigated great reed warbler individual. The organisation of the great reed warbler MHC class I genes suggested that a locus-specific screening protocol is impractical due to the high similarity between alleles across loci, including the introns flanking exon 3. Therefore, we used motif-specific PCR to amplify two subsets of alleles ( exon 3 sequences) that were separated with by DGGE. The motif-specific primers amplify a substantial proportion of the transcribed class I alleles (2-12 alleles per individual) from as many as six class I loci. Although not exhaustive, this gives a reliable estimate of the class I variation. The method is highly repeatable and more sensitive in detecting genetic variation than the RFLP method. The motif-specific primers also allow us to avoid screening pseudogenes. In our study population of great reed warblers, we found a high level of genetic variation in MHC class I, and no less than 234 DGGE genotypes were detected among 248 screened individuals.


  • Biological Sciences


  • Molecular Ecology and Evolution Lab
  • ISSN: 1365-2540
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