Cotton-top tamarins (Saguinus oedipus) in captivity are unusual in that they exhibit low levels of polymorphism and allelic diversity at the major histocompatibility complex (Mhc) class I loci. Since the polymorphism has previously only been examined in captive tamarins, we analyzed the Mhc class I alleles of a population of wild tamarins. These wild tamarins, like their captive counterparts, exhibited limited class I polymorphism. We also assessed the levels of polymorphism and allelic diversity at the Mhc class II DQA1, DQB1, DQB2, and the DRB loci in captive populations of cotton-top tamarins. In contrast to the extensive polymorphism in Old World monkeys, only two alleles were detected at each of DQA1 and DQB1. Also, the DQB2 locus was monomorphic and conserved between New and Old World monkeys. Sequences derived from four putative DRB loci were obtained, and extensive polymorphism was found at all four loci. Phylogenetic analysis did not indicate that any of the tamarin DRB loci, with the possible exception of Saoe-DRB3, were orthologous to the human DRB loci. At three of the DRB loci (Saoe-DRB11, Saoe-DRB*W12, Saoe-DRB*W22), the number of nonsynonymous changes was higher than the number of synonymous changes in the putative antigen recognition sites, indicative of positive selection. We found no support for a restriction on the polymorphism at the cotton-top tamarin class II loci. However, the allelic diversity at some of the Saoe-DRB loci is more limited than for the HLA-DRB1, consistent with a restriction imposed by the bone marrow-chimerical lifestyle.
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