Evolutionary history of an MHC gene in two leporid species: characterisation of **Mhc-DQA** in the European brown hare and comparison with the European rabbit
Faculty of Sciences. Biology
Immunogenetics. - Berlin
, p. 131-144
University of Antwerp
We surveyed the genetic diversity of the expressed major histocompatibility complex class II DQA locus in natural populations of European brown hares, Lepus europaeus, from Austria and Belgium (267 individuals in total). Based on cDNA sequences, we designed hare-specific primers to amplify the highly variable second exon of the DQA gene. Using cloningsequencing methodology and capillary electrophoresis single-strand conformation polymorphism, we found ten alleles of the DQA exon 2 locus across these two European regions, of which eight are described for the first time. To search for signals of selection and recombination in the evolution of the DQA gene within the leporids, we augmented our sample with orthologous DQA alleles from the European rabbit, Oryctolagus cuniculus, in order to carry out a species level, species pairwise comparison. We found evidence of recombination in the history of the DQA sequences in leporids with some recombinant alleles bridging the species divide. In both species, selection on peptide binding site codons can be detected, though stronger for the rabbit. This result suggests that there may be a differential selection pressure in the deeper evolutionary history of these two species due to differences in several demographic and ecological traits likely subjecting them to differential selection by parasites. Finally, evolutionary relationships show a widespread and statistically significant intermingling of alleles from the two species. The many macroparasites shared between hares and rabbits may explain this pattern of trans-species polymorphism.