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Open Access Research article

Genetic diversity and differentiation of the rhesus macaque (Macaca mulatta) population in western Sichuan, China, based on the second exon of the major histocompatibility complex class II DQB (MhcMamu-DQB1) alleles

Yong-Fang Yao1, Qiu-Xia Dai1, Jing Li2, Qing-Yong Ni1, Ming-Wang Zhang1 and Huai-Liang Xu13*

Author Affiliations

1 College of Animal Science and Technology, Sichuan Agricultural University, Ya´an 625014, China

2 College of Life Sciences, Sichuan University, Chengdu 610064, China

3 Experimental Animal Engineering Center/National Experimental Macaque Reproduce Laboratory, Sichuan Agricultural Universiy, Ya′an 625014, China

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2014, 14:130  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-14-130

Published: 14 June 2014



Rhesus macaques living in western Sichuan, China, have been separated into several isolated populations due to habitat fragmentation. Previous studies based on the neutral or nearly neutral markers (mitochondrial DNA or microsatellites) showed high levels of genetic diversity and moderate genetic differentiation in the Sichuan rhesus macaques. Variation at the major histocompatibility complex (MHC) loci is widely accepted as being maintained by balancing selection, even with a low level of neutral variability in some species. However, in small and isolated or bottlenecked populations, balancing selection may be overwhelmed by genetic drift. To estimate microevolutionary forces acting on the isolated rhesus macaque populations, we examined genetic variation at Mhc-DQB1 loci in 119 wild rhesus macaques from five geographically isolated populations in western Sichuan, China, and compared the levels of MHC variation and differentiation among populations with that previously observed at neutral microsatellite markers.


23 Mamu-DQB1 alleles were identified in 119 rhesus macaques in western Sichuan, China. These macaques exhibited relatively high levels of genetic diversity at Mamu-DQB1. The Hanyuan population presented the highest genetic variation, whereas the Heishui population was the lowest. Analysis of molecular variance (AMOVA) and pairwise FST values showed moderate genetic differentiation occurring among the five populations at the Mhc-DQB1 locus. Non-synonymous substitutions occurred at a higher frequency than synonymous substitutions in the peptide binding region. Levels of MHC variation within rhesus macaque populations are concordant with microsatellite variation. On the phylogenetic tree for the rhesus and crab-eating macaques, extensive allele or allelic lineage sharing is observed betweenthe two species.


Phylogenetic analyses confirm the apparent trans-species model of evolution of the Mhc-DQB1 genes in these macaques. Balancing selection plays an important role in sharing allelic lineages between species, but genetic drift may share balancing selection dominance to maintain MHC diversity. Great divergence at neutral or adaptive markers showed that moderate genetic differentiation had occurred in rhesus macaque populations in western Sichuan, China, due to the habitat fragmentation caused by long-term geographic barriers and human activity. The Heishui population should be paid more attention for its lowest level of genetic diversity and relatively great divergence from others.

Genetic diversity; Genetic differentiation; Macaca mulatta; Major histocompatibility complex; Trans-species evolution