Genetics and genomic organization of the major histocompatibility complex (MHC)

Jim Kaufman*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


The major histocompatibility complex (MHC) is a genetic region originally discovered as the major locus responsible for graft rejection, encoding highly polymorphic classical class I and class II molecules which present peptides to T cells. Transplantation is now understood as an epiphenomenon in vertebrates, with the true function of MHC molecules to present peptides derived from infectious pathogens and tumors, with MHC polymorphism driven by a molecular arms race with pathogens. The class I genes are found in a class I region separated by recombination from the class II genes in the class II region, both regions containing many other kinds of genes. In mammals, a class III region contains components of the complement cascade and cytokines from the tumor necrosis family, along with a variety of other immune and nonimmune genes. Outside of the MHC that determines graft rejection are the extended class I and extended class II regions that include many important genes and gene families. The MHC is organized somewhat differently in different nonmammalian vertebrates, with some profound effects on function. Genetic studies show that the various genes within the MHC are involved in resistance and susceptibility to diseases of physiology, autoimmunity, allergy, and infection, as well as in reproduction and transplantation.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationMolecular Immunology
PublisherElsevier Inc.
Number of pages8
ISBN (Print)9780080921525
Publication statusPublished - 27 Apr 2016


  • adaptive immunity
  • allele
  • allergy
  • antigen presentation
  • antigen processing
  • asthma
  • autoimmunity
  • diversity
  • genome-wide duplication
  • genomic organization
  • infectious disease
  • innate immunity
  • lipid
  • mate choice
  • NK cell
  • paralogous
  • paralogy
  • pathogen
  • peptide
  • placenta
  • polymorphism
  • recombination
  • reproduction
  • T cell
  • transplantation


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