Email updates

Keep up to date with the latest news and content from BMC Genomics and BioMed Central.

Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

The tammar wallaby major histocompatibility complex shows evidence of past genomic instability

Hannah V Siddle14, Janine E Deakin2, Penny Coggill3, Laurens G Wilming3, Jennifer Harrow3, Jim Kaufman4, Stephan Beck5 and Katherine Belov1*

Author affiliations

1 Faculty of Veterinary Science, University of Sydney, NSW 2006, AUSTRALIA

2 ARC Centre of Excellence for Kangaroo Genomics, Research School of Biological Sciences, Australian National University, Canberra, ACT 0200, Australia

3 Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, Wellcome Trust Genome Campus, Hinxton Hall, Hinxton, Cambridgeshire, CB10 1SA, UK

4 University of Cambridge, Department of Pathology, Cambridge CB2 1QP, UK

5 UCL Cancer Institute, University College London, London WC1E 6BT, UK

For all author emails, please log on.

Citation and License

BMC Genomics 2011, 12:421  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-12-421

Published: 19 August 2011

Abstract

Background

The major histocompatibility complex (MHC) is a group of genes with a variety of roles in the innate and adaptive immune responses. MHC genes form a genetically linked cluster in eutherian mammals, an organization that is thought to confer functional and evolutionary advantages to the immune system. The tammar wallaby (Macropus eugenii), an Australian marsupial, provides a unique model for understanding MHC gene evolution, as many of its antigen presenting genes are not linked to the MHC, but are scattered around the genome.

Results

Here we describe the 'core' tammar wallaby MHC region on chromosome 2q by ordering and sequencing 33 BAC clones, covering over 4.5 MB and containing 129 genes. When compared to the MHC region of the South American opossum, eutherian mammals and non-mammals, the wallaby MHC has a novel gene organization. The wallaby has undergone an expansion of MHC class II genes, which are separated into two clusters by the class III genes. The antigen processing genes have undergone duplication, resulting in two copies of TAP1 and three copies of TAP2. Notably, Kangaroo Endogenous Retroviral Elements are present within the region and may have contributed to the genomic instability.

Conclusions

The wallaby MHC has been extensively remodeled since the American and Australian marsupials last shared a common ancestor. The instability is characterized by the movement of antigen presenting genes away from the core MHC, most likely via the presence and activity of retroviral elements. We propose that the movement of class II genes away from the ancestral class II region has allowed this gene family to expand and diversify in the wallaby. The duplication of TAP genes in the wallaby MHC makes this species a unique model organism for studying the relationship between MHC gene organization and function.