MHC class I genes in a New World primate, the cotton-top tamarin (Saguinus oedipus), have evolved by an active process of loci turnover

Luis F. Cadavid, Beatriz E. Mejía, David I. Watkins

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

21 Scopus citations


Lymphocytes of a New World primate, the cotton-top tamarin (Saguinus oedipus), express classical G-related major histocompatibility complex (MHC) class I molecules with unusually limited polymorphism and variability. Three G-related loci, an F locus, an E locus, and two pseudogenes (So-N1 and So-N3) have been identified by cDNA library screening and extensive PCR analysis of both cDNA and genomic DNA from the cotton-top tamarin. Furthermore, each genus of the subfamily Callitrichinae (tamarins and marmosets) appears to express its own unique set of MHC class I genes, likely due to a rapid turnover of loci. The rapid emergence of unique MHC class I genes in the Callitrichinae genera, resulting from an active process of duplication and inactivation of loci, may account for the limited diversity of the MHC class I genes in the cotton-top tamarin. To determine the nature of the entire complement of MHC class I genes in the cotton-top tamarin, we synthesized a genomic DNA library and screened it with MHC class I-specific probes. We isolated nine new MHC class I pseudogenes from this library. These newly isolated tamarin G-related MHC class I pseudogenes are not closely related to any of their functional counterparts in the tamarin, suggesting that they do not share a recent common ancestral gene with the tamarin's currently expressed MHC class I loci. In addition, these tamarin sequences display a high rate of nonsynonymous substitutions in their putative peptide binding region. This indicates that the genes from which they have derived were likely subject to positive selection and, therefore, were once functional. Our data support the notion that an extremely high rate of loci turnover is largely responsible for the limited diversity of the MHC class I genes in the cotton-top tamarin.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)196-205
Number of pages10
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jan 1 1999
Externally publishedYes



  • Evolution
  • Gene duplication
  • MHC
  • New world primates

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology
  • Genetics

Cite this