The New World primate, the cotton-top tamarin (Saguinus oedipus), expresses major histocompatibility complex (MHC) class I molecules with limited diversity. The uniqueness of the cotton-top tamarin MHC class I loci may contribute to this species' unusual susceptibility to viral infections and high incidence of ulcerative colitis. As a prelude to examining the effect of this limited MHC class I diversity on the tamarin CD8+ T-cell receptor (TCR) repertoire, we identified expressed tamarin TCR β chain (TCRB) cDNAs by anchored and inverse polymerase chain reaction. Sequence alignments and phylogenetic comparisons with human and rhesus macaque sequences identified homologues of 21 human variable (V) gene families. Only single variable region genes were identified in each of these tamarin VB families, with the exception of the VB 5, 9, and 13 families which were comprised of two or three distinct members. The multiple genes within these three VB families do not appear to have separate human homologues, but rather aligned equally well to a single human gene from their respective VB families. These genes appear to have arisen, therefore, by duplication of certain VB genes in the tamarin ancestors following their divergence from the lineage leading to Old World primates and hominoids. Homologues of 12 of the 13 human joining (J) region genes were also identified in the tamarin, Comparison of the proportion of nonsynonymous (p(N)) and synonymous (p(S)) substitutions occurring per site within tamarin variable region genes demonstrated a reduction in p(N) in the framework regions compared with p(N) in the presumed MHC contact regions (CDR1 and CDR2). Taken together, these findings illustrate that the TCR β chain-encoding genes of the cotton-top tamarin are similar in structure and degree of complexity compared with their Old World primate and human counterparts.
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