The primate major histocompatibility complex (Mhc) genes fall into two classes and each of the classes into several families. Of the class II families, the DRB family has a long and complex evolutionary history marked by gene turnover, rearrangement, and molecular convergence. Because the history is not easily decipherable from sequences alone, Alu element insertions were used as cladistic markers to support the surmised phylogenetic relationships among the DRB genes. Intron 1 segments of 24 DRB genes from five platyrrhine species and five DRB genes from three prosimian species were amplified by PCR and cloned, and the amplification products were sequenced or PCR-typed for Alu repeats. Three Alu elements were identified in the platyrrhine and four in the prosimian DRB genes. One of the platyrrhine elements (Alu50J) is also found in the Catarrhini, whereas the other two (Alu62Sc, Alu63Sc) are restricted to the New World monkeys. Similarly, the four prosimian elements are found only in this taxon. This distribution of Alu elements is consistent with the phylogeny of the DRB genes as determined from their intron 1 sequences in an earlier and the present study. It contradicts the exon 2-based phylogeny and thus corroborates the conclusion that the evolution of DRB exon 2 sequences is, to some extent, shaped by molecular convergence. Taken together, the data indicate that each of the assemblages of DRB genes in prosimians, platyrrhines, and catarrhines is derived from a separate ancestral gene.
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