Paucity of class I MHC gene heterogeneity between individuals in the endangered Hawaiian monk seal population

Brian M. Aldridge, Lizabeth Bowen, Brett R. Smith, George A. Antonelis, Frances Gulland, Jeffrey L Stott

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


The Hawaiian monk seal population has experienced precipitous declines in the last 50 years. In this study, we provide evidence that individuals from remaining endangered population exhibit alarming uniformity in class I major histocompatibility (MHC) genes. The peripheral blood leukocyte-derived mRNA of six captive animals rescued from a stranding incident on the French frigate shoals in the Hawaiian archipelago was used to characterize genes in the monk seal class I MHC gene family, from which techniques for genotyping the broader population were designed using degenerate primers designed for the three major established human MHC class I loci (HLA-A, HLA-B, and HLA-C), and by sequencing multiple clones, six unique full-length classical MHC class I gene transcripts were identified among the six animals, three of which were only found in single individuals. Since The low degree of sequence variation between these transcripts and the similarity of genotype between individuals provided preliminary evidence for low class I MHC variability in the population. The sequence information from the class I transcripts from these six animals was used to design several primer sets for examining the extent of MHC variability in the remaining population using a combination of polymerase chain reaction and denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis (DGGE). Several DGGE assays, each one amplifying subtly different class I MHC gene combinations, were designed to compare exons encoding the highly polymorphic domains of the putative peptide-binding region of MHC class I. In combination, these assays failed to show interindividual variability at any of the class I MHC gene loci examined in either the six captive seals or in 80 free-ranging animals (∼6.7% of the estimated population) representing all six major subpopulations of Hawaiian monk seal.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)203-215
Number of pages13
Issue number2-3
StatePublished - Apr 2006


  • Endangered species
  • Hawaiian monk seal
  • Immunogenetics
  • Immunology
  • Major histocompatibility complex

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology
  • Genetics


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