Evolution of HLA-DRB genes

Mol Biol Evol. 2012 Dec;29(12):3843-53. doi: 10.1093/molbev/mss186. Epub 2012 Jul 23.


The HLA region shows diversity concerning the number and content of DRB genes present per haplotype. Similar observations are made for the equivalent regions in other primate species. To elucidate the evolutionary history of the various HLA-DRB genes, a large panel of intron sequences obtained from humans, chimpanzees, rhesus macaques, and common marmosets has been subjected to phylogenetic analyses. Special attention was paid to the presence and absence of particular transposable elements and/or to their segments. The sharing of different parts of the same long interspersed nuclear element-2 (LINE2, L2) and various Alu insertions by the species studied demonstrates that one precursor gene must have been duplicated several times before the Old World monkey (OWM) and hominid (HOM) divergence. At least four ancestral DRB gene families appear to have been present before the radiation of OWM and HOM, and one of these even predates the speciation of Old and New World primates. Two of these families represent the pseudogenes DRB6/DRB2 and DRB7, which have been locked in the genomes of various primate species over long evolutionary time spans. Furthermore, all phylogenies of different intron segments show consistently that, apart from the pseudogenes, only DRB5 genes are shared by OWM and HOM, and they demonstrate the common history of certain DRB genes/lineages of humans and chimpanzees. In contrast, the evolutionary history of some other DRB loci is difficult to decipher, thus illustrating the complex history of the evolution of DRB genes due to a combination of mutations and recombination-like events. The selected approach allowed us to shed light on the ancestral DRB gene pool in primates and on the evolutionary relationship of the various HLA-DRB genes.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Base Sequence
  • Callithrix / genetics*
  • Cluster Analysis
  • DNA Primers / genetics
  • Evolution, Molecular*
  • HLA-DR beta-Chains / genetics*
  • Humans
  • Introns / genetics
  • Likelihood Functions
  • Long Interspersed Nucleotide Elements / genetics
  • Macaca mulatta / genetics*
  • Models, Genetic
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Pan troglodytes / genetics*
  • Phylogeny*
  • Pseudogenes / genetics
  • Sequence Analysis, DNA
  • Species Specificity


  • DNA Primers
  • HLA-DR beta-Chains