Mhc-E intron 1, exon 2, intron 2, and exon 3 from pygmy chimpanzee (Pan paniscus), chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes), gorilla (Gorilla gorilla) and orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus) have been sequenced; six new Mhc-E alleles have been obtained but sequence changes are only placed either in introns or in synonymous exonic bases. One pygmy chimpanzee Mhc-E DNA sequence is identical to another sequence from chimpanzee; the fact that no variation is found also at the intronic level suggests that these two species of chimpanzee may have recently separated and/or that both of them might only represent subspecies. Mhc-E phylogenetic trees separate two evolutionary groups: Pongidae, including humans, and Cercopithecinae; this is also found by studying another non-classical class I gene, Mhc-G. The Mhc-E alleles' invariance at the protein level supports that strong selective forces are operating at the Mhc-E locus, as has also been found in both Cercopithecinae and humans. These allelic and evolutionary data suggest an altogether different functionality for HLA-E (and also HLA-G) compared with classical class I proteins: i.e., sending negative (tolerogenic) signals to NK and T cells.