Mhc-DRB genes of the pigtail macaque (Macaca nemestrina): Implications for the evolution of human DRB genes

Zhifang Zhu, Vladimir Vincek, Felipe Figueroa, Christian Schönbach, Jan Klein

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36 Scopus citations


The DRB family of human class II major histocompatibility complex (Mhc) loci is unusual in that individuals differ in the number and combination of genes (haplotypes) they carry. Indications are that both the allelic and haplotype polymorphisms of the DRB loci predate speciation. Searching for the evolutionary origins of these polymorphisms, we have sequenced five DRB clones isolated from a cDNA library of a pigtail macaque (Macaco nemestrina) B lymphocyte line. The clones represent five different genes which we designate Mane-DRB*01-Mane-DRB*05. The genes appear to be approximately equidistant from each other, so that allelic relationships between them cannot be established on the basis of the sequence data alone. If positions coding for the peptide-binding region of the class II β chains are eliminated from sequence comparisons, the Mane-DRB genes appear to be most closely related to the human (HLA) DRB1 genes of the DRw52 group. We interpret this finding to indicate that the ancestral gene of the DRw52 group of human DRB1 alleles separated from the rest of the HLA-DRB1 alleles before the separation of the Old World monkeys (Cercopithecoidea) from the apes (Hominoidea) in the early Oligocene. After this separation, the ancestral DRB1 gene of the DRw52 group duplicated in the Old World monkey lineage to give rise to genes at three loci at least, while in the ape lineage this gene may have remained single and diverged into a number of alleles instead. These findings suggest that some of the polymorphism currently present at the DRB1 locus is >35 Myr old.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)563-578
Number of pages16
JournalMolecular biology and evolution
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 1991

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics


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