Major histocompatibility complex variation in the endangered Przewalski's horse

Philip W. Hedrick, Karen M. Parker, Ellen L. Miller, Philip S. Miller

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

55 Scopus citations


The major histocompatibility complex (MHC) is a fundamental part of the vertebrate immune system, and the high variability in many MHC genes is thought to play an essential role in recognition of parasites. The Przewalski's horse is extinct in the wild and all the living individuals descend from 13 founders, most of whom were captured around the turn of the century. One of the primary genetic concerns in endangered species is whether they have ample adaptive variation to respond to novel selective factors. In examining 14 Przewalski's horses that are broadly representative of the living animals, we found six different class II DRB major histocompatibility sequences. The sequences showed extensive nonsynomous variation, concentrated in the putative antigen-binding sites, and little synonymous variation. Individuals had from two to four sequences as determined by single-stranded conformation polymorphism (SSCP) analysis. On the basis of the SSCP data, phylogenetic analysis of the nucleotide sequences, and segregation in a family group, we conclude that four of these sequences are from one gene (although one sequence codes for a nonfunctional allele because it contains a stop codon) and two other sequences are from another gene. The position of the stop codon is at the same amino-acid position as in a closely related sequence from the domestic horse. Because other organisms have extensive variation at homologous loci, the Przewalski's horse may have quite low variation in this important adaptive region.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1701-1710
Number of pages10
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 1999

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Genetics


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