The sable (Martes zibellina) is a medium-sized mustelid inhabiting forest environments in Siberia, northern China, the Korean Peninsula, and Hokkaido Island, Japan. To further understand the molecular evolution of the major histocompatibility complex (MHC), we sequenced part of exon 2 in MHC class II DRB genes, including codons encoding the antigen binding site, from 33 individuals from continental Eurasia and Japan. We identified 16 MHC class II DRB alleles (Mazi-DRBs), some of which were geographically restricted and others broadly distributed, and eight putative pseudogenes. A single-breakpoint recombination analysis detected a recombination site in the middle of exon 2. A mixed effects model of evolution analysis identified five amino acid sites presumably under positive selection. These sites were all located in the region 3′ to the recombination site, suggesting that positive selection and recombination could be committed to the diversity of the M. zibellina DRB gene. In a Bayesian phylogenetic tree, all Mazi-DRBs and the presumed pseudogenes grouped within a Mustelidae clade. The Mazi-DRBs showed trans-species polymorphism, with some alleles most closely related to alleles from other mustelid species. This result suggests that the sable DRBs have evolved under long-lasting balancing selection.
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