Two cichlid species, the haplochromine Aulonocara hansbaenschi and the tilapiine Oreochromis niloticus, were used to study the major histocompatibility complex (Mhc) class II A variation within this group. Multiple class II A sequences were recovered from A. hansbaenschi and O. niloticus cDNA libraries and three sequence families, DAA, DBA, and DCA, were identified. Sets of O. niloticus haploid embryo families were used to determine the linkage relationships of these genes. Two independently asserting linkage groups were detected, DAA and DBA/DCA, neither of which is linked to the previously described Mhc class I gene cluster. Three DCA genes and up to four DBA genes were found to segregate in different haplotypes, whereas DAA occurred as a single locus. Four DBA haplotypes, DBA*H1-H4, were identified and shown to co-segregate with the previously described class II B haplotypes. Four DCA haplotypes, DCA*H1-H4, were found at a distance of 37 cM from the DBA/class II B cluster; in one DCA haplotype, DCA*H5, the genes were tightly linked to the DBA/class II B clusters. Transcripts of DAA and DBA genes were found in O. niloticus hepatopancreas and spleen; transcripts of DCA genes were detected in the A. hansbaenschi cDNA library, but not in O. niloticus. These findings provide a basis for using class II haplotypes as markers in the study of adaptive radiation in the cichlid species flocks of the East African Great Lakes.
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