Spatiotemporal adaptive evolution of an MHC immune gene in a frog-fungus disease system

Alexa L. Trujillo, Eric A. Hoffman, C. Guilherme Becker, Anna E. Savage

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


Genetic diversity of major histocompatibility complex (MHC) genes is linked to reduced pathogen susceptibility in amphibians, but few studies also examine broad spatial and temporal patterns of MHC and neutral genetic diversity. Here, we characterized range-wide MHC diversity in the Northern leopard frog, Rana pipiens, a species found throughout North America that is experiencing disease-related declines. We used previously sequenced neutral markers (mitochondrial DNA and microsatellites), sequenced an expressed MHC class IIß gene fragment, and measured infection prevalence and intensity of the global fungal pathogen Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd) across 14 populations. Four populations were sampled across two decades, enabling temporal comparisons of selection and demography. We recovered 37 unique MHC alleles, including 17 that were shared across populations. Phylogenetic and population genetic patterns between MHC and neutral markers were incongruent, and five MHC codon positions associated with peptide binding were under positive selection. MHC heterozygosity, but not neutral marker heterozygosity, was a significant factor explaining spatial patterns of Bd prevalence, whereas only environmental variables predicted Bd intensity. MHC allelic richness (AR) decreased significantly over time but microsatellite-based AR did not, highlighting a loss of functional immunogenetic diversity that may be associated with Bd selective pressures. MHC supertype 4 was significantly associated with an elevated risk of Bd infection, whereas one supertype 2 allele was associated with a nearly significant reduced risk of Bd. Taken together, these results provide evidence that positive selection contributes to MHC class IIß evolution in R. pipiens and suggest that functional MHC differences across populations may contribute to disease adaptation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)640-655
Number of pages16
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Genetics
  • Genetics(clinical)


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