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Open Access Research article

454 sequencing reveals extreme complexity of the class II Major Histocompatibility Complex in the collared flycatcher

Magdalena Zagalska-Neubauer12, Wiesław Babik1, Michał Stuglik1, Lars Gustafsson3, Mariusz Cichoń1 and Jacek Radwan1*

Author Affiliations

1 Institute of Environmental Sciences, Jagiellonian University, Gronostajowa 7, 30-387 Kraków, Poland

2 Ornithological Station, Museum and Institute of Zoology, Polish Academy of Sciences, Nadwiślańska 108, 80-680 Gdańsk, Poland

3 Department of Ecology and Genetics/Animal Ecology, Evolutionary Biology Centre, Uppsala University, Norbyvägen 18D, S-752 36 Uppsala, Sweden

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2010, 10:395  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-10-395

Published: 31 December 2010

Abstract

Background

Because of their functional significance, the Major Histocompatibility Complex (MHC) class I and II genes have been the subject of continuous interest in the fields of ecology, evolution and conservation. In some vertebrate groups MHC consists of multiple loci with similar alleles; therefore, the multiple loci must be genotyped simultaneously. In such complex systems, understanding of the evolutionary patterns and their causes has been limited due to challenges posed by genotyping.

Results

Here we used 454 amplicon sequencing to characterize MHC class IIB exon 2 variation in the collared flycatcher, an important organism in evolutionary and immuno-ecological studies. On the basis of over 152,000 sequencing reads we identified 194 putative alleles in 237 individuals. We found an extreme complexity of the MHC class IIB in the collared flycatchers, with our estimates pointing to the presence of at least nine expressed loci and a large, though difficult to estimate precisely, number of pseudogene loci. Many similar alleles occurred in the pseudogenes indicating either a series of recent duplications or extensive concerted evolution. The expressed alleles showed unambiguous signals of historical selection and the occurrence of apparent interlocus exchange of alleles. Placing the collared flycatcher's MHC sequences in the context of passerine diversity revealed transspecific MHC class II evolution within the Muscicapidae family.

Conclusions

454 amplicon sequencing is an effective tool for advancing our understanding of the MHC class II structure and evolutionary patterns in Passeriformes. We found a highly dynamic pattern of evolution of MHC class IIB genes with strong signals of selection and pronounced sequence divergence in expressed genes, in contrast to the apparent sequence homogenization in pseudogenes. We show that next generation sequencing offers a universal, affordable method for the characterization and, in perspective, genotyping of MHC systems of virtually any complexity.