We have investigated the diversity of class II major histocompatibility complex (MHC) loci in the brushtail possum (Trichosurus vulpecula), an important marsupial pest species in New Zealand. Immunocontraceptive vaccines, a method of fertility control that employs the immune system to attack reproductive cells or proteins, are currently being researched as a means of population control for the possum. Variation has been observed in the immune response of individual possums to immunocontraceptives. If this variability is under genetic control, it could compromise vaccine efficacy through preferential selection of animals that fail to mount a significant immune response and remain fertile. The MHC is an important immune region for antigen presentation and as such may influence the response to immunocontraceptives. We used known marsupial MHC sequences to design polymerase chain reaction primers to screen for possum MHC loci. Alpha and beta chains from two class II families, DA and DB, were found in possums throughout New Zealand. Forty new class II MHC alleles were identified in the possum, and the levels of variability in the MHC of this marsupial appear to be comparable to those of eutherian species. Preliminary population surveys showed evidence of clustering/variability in the distribution of MHC alleles in geographically separate locations. The extensive variation demonstrated in possums reinforces the need for further research to assess the risk that such MHC variation poses for long-term immunocontraceptive vaccine efficacy.
Holland, O., Cowan, P., Gleeson, D., & Chamley, L. (2008). Novel alleles in classical major histocompatibility complex class II loci of the brushtail possum (Trichosurus vulpecula). Immunogenetics, 60, 449-460. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00251-008-0300-8