The MHC system plays a vital part in the recognition of pathogens. Most genes making up the MHC system in humans and non-human primates are highly variable and may come in different numbers, particularly in old-world monkeys such as macaques. Therefore, when testing new therapies to treat diseases in experimental animals, it is crucial that we know what the variability and numbers of MHC genes in these animals are like.
BPRC-affiliated scientists, along with other research groups in the USA and other countries, are seeking to map out the MHC of various species of macaques. By now, we have almost doubled the number of mapped-out variants of MHC genes. This study also showed that certain MHC genes are more common and more variable in macaques than in humans. Therefore, it seems that, during evolution, different processes played a role in generating variability in humans' and macaques' MHC systems.
The researchers also developed a new method that makes it easier to determine the genetic code of long DNA strands. They used this method to characterise the MHC of crab-eating macaques, and in so doing found a large number of new MHC genes and variables. This study was published in the Immunogenetics academic journal.