Open Access Open Badges Research article

Evolution by selection, recombination, and gene duplication in MHC class I genes of two Rhacophoridae species

Mian Zhao, Yongzhen Wang, Hang Shen, Chenliang Li, Cheng Chen, Zhenhua Luo and Hua Wu*

Author Affiliations

Molecular and Behavioural Ecology Research Group, College of Life Sciences, Central China Normal University, 152 Luoyulu, Hongshan District, Wuhan 430079, China

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2013, 13:113  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-13-113

Published: 5 June 2013



Comparison of major histocompatibility complex (MHC) genes across vertebrate species can reveal molecular mechanisms underlying the evolution of adaptive immunity-related proteins. As the first terrestrial tetrapods, amphibians deserve special attention because of their exposure to probably increased spectrum of microorganisms compared with ancestral aquatic fishes. Knowledge regarding the evolutionary patterns and mechanisms associated with amphibian MHC genes remains limited. The goal of the present study was to isolate MHC class I genes from two Rhacophoridae species (Rhacophorus omeimontis and Polypedates megacephalus) and examine their evolution.


We identified 27 MHC class I alleles spanning the region from exon 2 to 4 in 38 tree frogs. The available evidence suggests that these 27 sequences all belong to classical MHC class I (MHC Ia) genes. Although several anuran species only display one MHC class Ia locus, at least two or three loci were observed in P. megacephalus and R. omeimontis, indicating that the number of MHC class Ia loci varies among anuran species. Recombination events, which mainly involve the entire exons, played an important role in shaping the genetic diversity of the 27 MHC class Ia alleles. In addition, signals of positive selection were found in Rhacophoridae MHC class Ia genes. Amino acid sites strongly suggested by program to be under positive selection basically accorded with the putative antigen binding sites deduced from crystal structure of human HLA. Phylogenetic relationships among MHC class I alleles revealed the presence of trans-species polymorphisms.


In the two Rhacophoridae species (1) there are two or three MHC class Ia loci; (2) recombination mainly occurs between the entire exons of MHC class Ia genes; (3) balancing selection, gene duplication and recombination all contribute to the diversity of MHC class Ia genes. These findings broaden our knowledge on the evolution of amphibian MHC systems.

Major histocompatibility complex; Evolution; Rhacophorus omeimontis; Polypedates megacephalus