Major histocompatibility complex (MHC) class I and class II molecules bind to and display peptidic antigens acquired from pathogens that are recognized by lymphocytes coordinating and executing adaptive immune responses. The two classes of MHC proteins have nearly identical tertiary structures and were derived from a common ancestor that probably existed not long before the emergence of the cartilaginous fish. Class I and class II genes are genetically linked in tetrapods but are not syntenic in teleost fish, a phylogenetic taxon derived from the oldest vertebrate ancestor examined to date. Cartilaginous fish (sharks, skates, and rays) are in the oldest taxon of extant jawed vertebrates; we have carried out segregation analyses in two families of nurse sharks and one family of the banded houndshark that revealed a close linkage of class IIα and β genes both with each other and with the classical class I (class Ia) gene. These results strongly suggest that the primordial duplication giving rise to classical class I and class II occurred in cis, and the close linkage between these two classes of genes has been maintained for at least 460 million years in representatives of most vertebrate taxa
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