MHC class II variation in a rare and ecological specialist mouse lemur reveals lower allelic richness and contrasting selection patterns compared to a generalist and widespread sympatric congener.

PMID 25687337


The polymorphism of immunogenes of the major histocompatibility complex (MHC) is thought to influence the functional plasticity of immune responses and, consequently, the fitness of populations facing heterogeneous pathogenic pressures. Here, we evaluated MHC variation (allelic richness and divergence) and patterns of selection acting on the two highly polymorphic MHC class II loci (DRB and DQB) in the endangered primate Madame Berthe's mouse lemur (Microcebus berthae). Using 454 pyrosequencing, we examined MHC variation in a total of 100 individuals sampled over 9 years in Kirindy Forest, Western Madagascar, and compared our findings with data obtained previously for its sympatric congener, the grey mouse lemur (Microcebus murinus). These species exhibit a contrasting ecology and demography that were expected to affect MHC variation and molecular signatures of selection. We found a lower allelic richness concordant with its low population density, but a similar level of allelic divergence and signals of historical selection in the rare feeding specialist M. berthae compared to the widespread generalist M. murinus. These findings suggest that demographic factors may exert a stronger influence than pathogen-driven selection on current levels of allelic richness in M. berthae. Despite a high sequence similarity between the two congeners, contrasting selection patterns detected at DQB suggest its potential functional divergence. This study represents a first step toward unravelling factors influencing the adaptive divergence of MHC genes between closely related but ecologically differentiated sympatric lemurs and opens new questions regarding potential functional discrepancy that would explain contrasting selection patterns detected at DQB.