The zebrafish (Brachydanio rerio) offers many advantages for immunological and immunogenetic research and has the potential for becoming one of the most important nonmammalian vertebrate research models. With this in mind, we initiated a systematic study of the zebrafish major histocompatibility complex (Mhc) genes. In this report, we describe the cloning and characteristics of the zebrafish class I A genes coding for the α chains of the αβ heterodimer and thus complete the identification of all four classes and subclasses of the Mhc in this species. We describe the full class I α cDNA sequence as well as the exon-intron organization of the class I A genes, including intron sequences. We identify three families of class I A genes which we designate Bree-UAA,-UBA, and -UCA. The three families originated about the time of the divergence of cyprinid and salmonid fishes. All three families are members of an ancient lineage that diverged from another, older lineage also represented in cyprinid fishes before the radiation of teleost orders. The fish class I A genes therefore evolve differently from mammalian class I A genes, in which the establishment of lineages and families mostly postdates the divergence of orders.
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