Comparison of the rate of synonymous and nonsynonymous nucleotide substitutions suggests that certain regions of the functional H-2 genes, which are part of the mouse major histocompatibility complex (Mhc), are under strong positive selection pressure. Thus far, however, little evidence has been provided for the existence of such pressure in natural mouse populations. We have, therefore, initiated experiments designed to test the hypothesis of positive selection acting on H-2 loci. The experiments are being carried out on two natural mouse populations in Jerusalem, Israel. One population occupies a space of about 100 m2 in a chicken coop, the other lives in a nearby field in which "mouse stations" providing food and shelter have been set up. Extensive typing of these two populations revealed the presence of only four H-2 haplotypes. Mice in the two populations breed continually all year around, yet population size varies seasonally, with population maxima in winter and minima in summer. The population in the chicken coop contains a relatively stable nucleus which may be organized in demes with an excess of females over males and limited territorial mobility. The rest of the mice stay in the population for a short time only and then either die or emigrate. The field population is smaller and more loosely organized than the chicken-coop population, with demes probably forming only during population maxima. For the rest of the time breeding in this population is probably panmictic. At a population minimum in the summer of 1984, H-2 homozygotes happened to predominate over heterozygotes. This situation, however, lasted for a short time only and thereafter there was a continuous, statistically highly significant increase in the proportion of H-2 heterozygotes of one or two types. The increase occurred in both populations but was more apparent in the chicken-coop population. This observation provides the first experimental evidence that heterozygous advantage might be one of the mechanisms maintaining high H-2 polymorphism in natural populations of the house mouse.
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