The DNA sequences of four exons of the MHC (major histocompatibility complex) were examined in chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) from an interior (Nechako River) and a coastal (Harrison River) population in the Fraser River drainage of British Columbia. Mhc class I A1, A2 and A3 sequences and a class II B1 sequence were obtained by PCR from each of 16-20 salmon from each population. The class I A1 and a pair of linked A2-A3 exons were derived from two different classical salmonid class I genes, Sasa-A and Onmy-UA, respectively. Allelic variation for B1, A1 and A2 was characterized by the high levels of nonsynonymous substitution indicative of the effects of natural selection on Mhc domains that contain peptide binding regions. The number of alleles detected at each of the four exons ranged from three (B1) to 22 (A1), but levels of nucleotide sequence divergence at all four exons were low relative to classical mammalian Mhc genes. The nucleotide similarity among alleles ranged between 89 and 99% over all exons, and all four domains possessed only two major sequence motifs. Allelic distributions at B1, A1 and A3 confirmed the genetic distinctiveness of the Harrison and Nechako chinook salmon populations revealed in previous studies. The two major allelic motifs of B1 and A1 segregated strongly between the populations. In spite of evidence that allelic diversity at these chinook salmon Mhc exons has been generated by selection, the level and distribution of diversity in the two salmon populations strongly reflected the demographic history of the species, which has been characterized by repeated bottlenecks and isolation-by-distance in glacial refugia.