University of Cambridge > > Immunology in Pathology > Adaptive variation and evolutionarily conserved MHC-DRB supertype-binding motifs in Old World primates

Adaptive variation and evolutionarily conserved MHC-DRB supertype-binding motifs in Old World primates

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Host: Jim Kaufman (

My research interests center on the study of genetic variation in human and non-human primate populations. Specifically, I seek to understand how demography and environment influence genetic diversity and how genetic factors influence inter-individual differences in health, reproductive success and behaviour in humans and other primates. My work also involves the application of molecular genetic data to questions of primate taxonomy and evolution.

As a PhD student at UCLA , my doctoral research focused on the investigation of immunogenetic factors contributing to pregnancy wastage in pigtailed macaques (Macaca nemestrina). The basis for this research was the observation that immunogenetic similarity between mates is associated with decreased fecundability and increased fetal wastage in some mammalian species. Although controversial, studies in humans, rodents and swine suggested that the highly polymorphic genetic loci responsible for immune response and graft rejection (i.e., the major histocompatibility complex, or MHC ) also played a role in reproductive outcome. My doctoral studies of histocompatibility antigen sharing among reproductively successful and unsuccessful pigtailed macaque couples revealed a highly significant amount of MHC antigen sharing among unsuccessful breeders. These findings provide compelling support for MHC , or MHC -linked, genes playing a critical role in primate reproduction. This research also suggests that prenatal selection may represent an additional mechanism for the maintenance of genetic diversity in the major histocompatibility complex and that there is a need for continued study of MHC genes and reproduction in primates.

My interest in studying MHC genes to facilitate understanding of ecological and evolutionary questions then led me to conduct post-doctoral research at the Wisconsin Regional Primate Research Center (WRPRC). At the WRPRC , I developed molecular genetic techniques for the identification and study of MHC genes in macaques and other primates. Using molecular techniques that include the polymerase chain reaction, gel electrophoresis and nucleotide sequencing, I characterized various MHC genes from humans, rhesus macaques and New World monkeys. This work was used to study the effects of natural selection on MHC genes in primates, to examine the antiquity and evolution of particular MHC loci and to evaluate the relationship between habitat, MHC genes and disease.

This talk is part of the Immunology in Pathology series.

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