I am particularly interested in the immune system of wild passerine birds and interestingly they have many more copies of MHC genes than mammals. In order to better understand the function of the immune system in passerine birds we are taking several different approaches in the project ‘Optimal-Immunity’.
We characterize the MHC region in several passerine species to know the gene order and to unravel gene rearrangements and gene duplication events that have occurred over evolutionary time.
Function of MHC genes
Genes of key importance during an immune response are highly expressed. We want to know which MHC gene copies that are expressed when, and to what degree, during an infection.
A strong and wide selection from pathogens will select for different patterns in the immune genes than a weak and narrow selection. We study infection status and responses in immune genes over selection gradients in resident house sparrows Passer domesticus and migratory great reed warblers Acrocephalus arundinaceus and also during natural infections in captivity. We have a particular focus on avian malaria and how it varies in time and space.
MHC proteins bind and present antigens in different ways, some bind a wide range of antigens whereas other are strict. We want to figure out details of how passerine MHC proteins bind antigens by looking at their crystal structures.