Evolution of MHC Class I Loci in Marsupials: Characterization of Sequences from Koala(Phascolarctos cinereus)

Bronwyn A. Houlden,1 Warwick D. Greville,2 and William B. Sherwin

School of Biological Science, University of NSW

We demonstrate that koala (Phascolarctos cinereus) MHC class I constitutes a variable multigene family. A total of nine partial exon 2 and 3 major histocompatibilify complex (MHC) class I sequences are presented, including six sequences from at least three loci from one koala. Variation was detect&by examination of sequences from a number of individuals and family groups. The koala is the second marsupial species characterized to date, and comparisons reveal approximately 80% similarity with sequences from the red-necked wallaby (Macropus rufogriseus). The latter sequences represent at least two, and probably three, different loci. Phylogenetic analysis demonstrates that all koala sequences are more related to one another than they are to any of the wallaby loci. This indicates that the koala sequences are probably not orthologous to the wallaby genes, and thus represent a new class I gene family. In addition, marsupial gene families cluster away from human gene families, supporting a different origin of MHC genes for marsupials and eutherians.