In order to understand the expression and evolution of host resistance to pathogens, we need to examine the links between genetic variability at the major histocompatibility complex ( Mhc), phenotypic expression of the immune response and parasite resistance in natural populations. To do so, we characterized the Mhc class I and IIB genes of house sparrows with the goal of designing a PCR-based genotyping method for the Mhc genes using denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis (DGGE). The incredible success of house sparrows in colonizing habitats worldwide allows us to assess the importance of the variability of Mhc genes in the face of various pathogenic pressures. Isolation and sequencing of Mhc class I and IIB alleles revealed that house sparrows have fewer loci and fewer alleles than great reed warblers. In addition, the Mhc class I genes divided in two distinct lineages with different levels of polymorphism, possibly indicating different functional roles for each gene family. This organization is reminiscent of the chicken B complex and Rfp-Y system. The house sparrow Mhc hence appears to be intermediate between the great reed warbler and the chicken Mhc, both in terms of numbers of alleles and existence of within-class lineages. We specifically amplified one Mhc class I gene family and ran the PCR products on DGGE gels. The individuals screened displayed between one and ten DGGE bands, indicating that this method can be used in future studies to explore the ecological impacts of Mhc diversity.