100 million years of multigene family evolution: Origin and evolution of the avian MHC class IIB

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Background: Gene duplication has led to a most remarkable adaptation involved in vertebrates' host-pathogen arms-race, the major histocompatibility complex (MHC). However, MHC duplication history is as yet poorly understood in non-mammalian vertebrates, including birds. Results: Here, we provide evidence for the evolution of two ancient avian MHC class IIB (MHCIIB) lineages by a duplication event prior to the radiation of all extant birds >100 million years ago, and document the role of concerted evolution in eroding the footprints of the avian MHCIIB duplication history. Conclusions: Our results suggest that eroded footprints of gene duplication histories may mimic birth-death evolution and that in the avian MHC the presence of the two lineages may have been masked by elevated rates of concerted evolution in several taxa. Through the presence of a range of intermediate evolutionary stages along the homogenizing process of concerted evolution, the avian MHCIIB provides a remarkable illustration of the erosion of multigene family duplication history.


  • Julien Goebel
  • Marta Promerová
  • Francesco Bonadonna
  • Karen D. McCoy
  • Céline Serbielle
  • Maria Strandh
  • Glenn Yannic
  • Reto Burri
  • Luca Fumagalli
External organisations
  • University of Montpellier
  • Friedrich Schiller University Jena
  • University of Lausanne
  • Institute of Vertebrate Biology, CAS
  • Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History
  • Centre d'Ecologie Fonctionnelle et Evolutive (CEFE)
  • University of Savoy Mont Blanc
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Genetics
  • Zoology


  • Birds, Birth-death evolution, Concerted evolution, Gene conversion, Gene duplication, Major histocompatibility complex, Recombination
Original languageEnglish
Article number460
JournalBMC Genomics
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2017 Jun 13
Publication categoryResearch
Externally publishedYes