The major histocompatibility complex (MHC) is an essential part of the vertebrate immune response. MHC genes may be classified as classical, non-classical or nonfunctional pseudogenes. We have investigated the diversity of class I MHC genes in the brushtail possum, a marsupial native to Australia and an introduced pest in New Zealand. The MHC of marsupials is poorly characterised compared to eutherian mammal species. Comparisons between marsupials and eutherians may enhance understanding of the evolution and functions of this important genetic region. We found a high level of diversity in possum class I MHC genes. Twenty novel sequences were identified using polymerase chain reaction (PCR) primers designed from existing marsupial class I MHC genes. Eleven of these sequences shared a high level of homology with the only previously identified possum MHC class I gene TrvuUB and appear to be alleles at a single locus. Another seven sequences are also similar to TrvuUB but have frame-shift mutations or stop codons early in their sequence, suggesting they are non-functional alleles of a pseudogene locus. The remaining sequences are highly divergent from other possum sequences and clusters with American marsupials in phylogenetic analysis, indicating they may have changed little since the separation of Australian and American marsupials.
Holland, O., Cowan, P., Gleeson, D., & Chamley, L. (2008). Identification of novel major histocompatibility complex class I sequences in a marsupial, the brushtail possum (Trichosurus vulpecula). Immunogenetics, 60, 609-619. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00251-008-0316-0