The chromosomal region constituting the major histocompatibility complex (MHC) has undergone complex evolution that is often difficult to decipher. An important aid in the elucidation of the MHC evolution is the presence of Alu elements (repeats) which serve as markers for tracing chromosomal rearrangements. As the first step toward the establishment of sets of evolutionary markers for the MHC, Alu elements present in selected MHC haplotypes of the human species, the gorilla, and the chimpanzee were identified. Restriction fragments of cosmid clones from the libraries of the three species were hybridized with Alu-specific probes, Alu elements were amplified by the polymerase chain reaction, and the amplification products were sequenced. In some cases, sequences of the regions flanking the Alu elements were also obtained. Altogether, 31 new Alu elements were identified, representing six Alu subfamilies. The average density of Alu elements in the MHC is one element per four kilobases (kb) of sequence. Alu elements have apparently been inserted steadily into the MHC over the last 65 million years (my). On average, one Alu element is inserted into the primate MHC every 4 my. Analysis of the human DR3 haplotype supports its origin by duplication from an ancestral haplotype consisting of DRB1 and DRB2 genes. The sharing of an old Alu element by the DRB1 and DRB2 genes, in turn, supports their divergence from a common ancestor more than 55 my ago.
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