Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

A complete DNA sequence map of the ovine Major Histocompatibility Complex

Jianfeng Gao12, Ka Liu24, Haibo Liu24, Hugh T Blair3, Gang Li12, Chuangfu Chen1, Pingping Tan2 and Runlin Z Ma24*

Author Affiliations

1 School of Life Sciences, Shihezi University, Xinjiang 832007, China

2 Institute of Genetics and Developmental Biology, Chinese Academy of Science, Beijing 100101, China

3 Institute of Veterinary Animal and Biomedical Sciences, Massey University, New Zealand

4 Graduate School of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100149, China

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BMC Genomics 2010, 11:466  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-11-466

Published: 10 August 2010



The ovine Major Histocompatibility Complex (MHC) harbors clusters of genes involved in overall resistance/susceptibility of an animal to infectious pathogens. However, only a limited number of ovine MHC genes have been identified and no adequate sequence information is available, as compared to those of swine and bovine. We previously constructed a BAC clone-based physical map that covers entire class I, class II and class III region of ovine MHC. Here we describe the assembling of a complete DNA sequence map for the ovine MHC by shotgun sequencing of 26 overlapping BAC clones.


DNA shotgun sequencing generated approximately 8-fold genome equivalent data that were successfully assembled into a finished sequence map of the ovine MHC. The sequence map spans approximately 2,434,000 nucleotides in length, covering almost all of the MHC loci currently known in the sheep and cattle. Gene annotation resulted in the identification of 177 protein-coding genes/ORFs, among which 145 were not previously reported in the sheep, and 10 were ovine species specific, absent in cattle or other mammals. A comparative sequence analyses among human, sheep and cattle revealed a high conservation in the MHC structure and loci order except for the class II, which were divided into IIa and IIb subregions in the sheep and cattle, separated by a large piece of non-MHC autosome of approximately 18.5 Mb. In addition, a total of 18 non-protein-coding microRNAs were predicted in the ovine MHC region for the first time.


An ovine MHC DNA sequence map was successfully assembled by shotgun sequencing of 26 overlapping BAC clone. This makes the sheep the second ruminant species for which the complete MHC sequence information is available for evolution and functional studies, following that of the bovine. The results of the comparative analysis support a hypothesis that an inversion of the ancestral chromosome containing the MHC has shaped the MHC structures of ruminants, as we currently observed in the sheep and cattle. Identification of relative large numbers of microRNAs in the ovine MHC region helps to provide evidence that microRNAs are actively involved in the regulation of MHC gene expression and function.