The evolutionary ecology of the major histocompatibility complex

Heredity (Edinb). 2006 Jan;96(1):7-21. doi: 10.1038/sj.hdy.6800724.


The major histocompatibility complex (MHC) has become a paradigm for how selection can act to maintain adaptively important genetic diversity in natural populations. Here, we review the contribution of studies on the MHC in non-model species to our understanding of how selection affects MHC diversity, emphasising how ecological and ethological processes influence the tempo and mode of evolution at the MHC, and conversely, how variability at the MHC affects individual fitness, population dynamics and viability. We focus on three main areas: the types of information that have been used to detect the action of selection on MHC genes; the relative contributions of parasite-mediated and sexual selection on the maintenance of MHC diversity; and possible future lines of research that may help resolve some of the unanswered issues associated with MHC evolution.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biological Evolution*
  • Ecology*
  • Genetic Variation
  • Humans
  • Major Histocompatibility Complex / genetics*
  • Population Dynamics
  • Reproduction
  • Selection, Genetic