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Open Access Open Badges Research article

Multiple expressed MHC class II loci in salmonids; details of one non-classical region in Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar)

Håvard Harstad, Morten F Lukacs, Hege G Bakke and Unni Grimholt*

Author Affiliations

Department of Basic Science and Aquatic Medicine, Norwegian School of Veterinary Science, Oslo, Norway

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BMC Genomics 2008, 9:193  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-9-193

Published: 28 April 2008



In teleosts, the Major Histocompatibility Complex (MHC) class I and class II molecules reside on different linkage groups as opposed to tetrapods and shark, where the class I and class II genes reside in one genomic region. Several teleost MHC class I regions have been sequenced and show varying number of class I genes. Salmonids have one major expressed MHC class I locus (UBA) in addition to varying numbers of non-classical genes. Two other more distant lineages are also identifyed denoted L and ZE. For class II, only one major expressed class II alpha (DAA) and beta (DAB) gene has been identified in salmonids so far.


We sequenced a genomic region of 211 kb encompassing divergent MHC class II alpha (Sasa-DBA) and beta (Sasa-DBB) genes in addition to NRGN, TIPRL, TBCEL and TECTA. The region was not linked to the classical class II genes and had some synteny to genomic regions from other teleosts. Two additional divergent and expressed class II sequences denoted DCA and DDA were also identified in both salmon and trout. Expression patterns and lack of polymorphism make these genes non-classical class II analogues. Sasa-DBB, Sasa-DCA and Sasa-DDA had highest expression levels in liver, hindgut and spleen respectively, suggestive of distinctive functions in these tissues. Phylogenetic studies revealed more yet undescribed divergent expressed MHC class II molecules also in other teleosts.


We have characterised one genomic region containing expressed non-classical MHC class II genes in addition to four other genes not involved in immune function. Salmonids contain at least two expressed MHC class II beta genes and four expressed MHC class II alpha genes with properties suggestive of new functions for MHC class II in vertebrates. Collectively, our data suggest that the class II is worthy of more elaborate studies also in other teleost species.