Major histocompatibility complex (Mhc) class II Ab genes have evolved into three distinct lineages. While lineage 2 alleles differ from lineage 1 alleles by the insertion of a retroposon in intron 2, the basis for the extremely large intron 2 in lineage 3 alleles has heretofore been undetermined. In this report, we demonstrate by nucleotide sequencing that the genomic sequences of prototypic alleles from all three lineages diverge significantly and that lineage 3 is derived from lineage 2 by two insertional events in intron 2. One insert, composed of a member of B1 short interspersed repetitive elements (SINEs), occurs 508 base pairs (bp) 3' of exon 2, and the other, 1141 bp 3' of exon 2 within the retroposon that distinguishes lineage 2 from lineage 1. To assess the evolutionary stability of these lineages and the extent of ancestral polymorphisms of Ab within Mus species, we extended our restriction site polymorphism analysis to include 86 alleles from 120 independently derived H2 haplotypes from 12 separate species and subspecies of Mus. A phylogenetic tree revealing the relationships of these Ab alleles with respect to restriction site polymorphisms, but excluding the retroposon insertions, demonstrated that these lineages have distinctive genomic structures beyond the retroposon polymorphisms. In summary, these mouse Ab genes were produced from successive retroposon insertion events. Lineage 1 and 2 were detected in a variety of Mus species, including Mus caroli, indicating that these lineages diverged more than 2 million years ago. Lineage 3 alleles were found only in the Mus musculus subspecies, suggesting that it diverged from lineage 2 more recently. These results indicate that all three lineages of Ab have persisted through several speciation events in the genus Mus.
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