Characterisation of major histocompatibility complex class IIa haplotypes in an island sheep population

Kara L. Dicks, Josephine M. Pemberton, Keith T. Ballingall

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The ovine MHC class IIa is known to consist of six to eight loci located in close proximity on chromosome 20, forming haplotypes that are typically inherited without recombination. Here, we characterise the class IIa haplotypes within the Soay sheep (Ovis aries) on St. Kilda to assess the diversity present within this unmanaged island population. We used a stepwise sequence-based genotyping strategy to identify alleles at seven polymorphic MHC class IIa loci in a sample of 118 Soay sheep from four cohorts spanning 15 years of the long-term study on St. Kilda. DRB1, the most polymorphic MHC class II locus, was characterised first in all 118 sheep and identified six alleles. Using DRB1 homozygous animals, the DQA (DQA1, DQA2 and DQA2-like) and DQB (DQB1, DQB2 and DQB2-like) loci were sequenced, revealing eight haplotypes. Both DQ1/DQ2 and DQ2/DQ2-like haplotype configurations were identified and a single haplotype carrying three DQB alleles. A test sample of 94 further individuals typed at the DRB1 and DQA loci found no exceptions to the eight identified haplotypes and a haplotype homozygosity of 21.3%. We found evidence of historic positive selection at DRB1, DQA and DQB. The limited variation at MHC class IIa loci in Soay sheep enabled haplotype characterisation but showed that no single locus could capture the full extent of the expressed variation in the region.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages11
Early online date22 Feb 2019
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 22 Feb 2019


  • Major histocompatibility complex
  • Soay sheep
  • Haplotype
  • Balancing selection


Dive into the research topics of 'Characterisation of major histocompatibility complex class IIa haplotypes in an island sheep population'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this