From genome-wide to candidate gene: an investigation of variation at the major histocompatibility complex in common bottlenose dolphins exposed to harmful algal blooms.
The role the major histocompatibility complex (MHC) plays in response to exposure to environmental toxins is relatively poorly understood, particularly in comparison to its well-described role in pathogen immunity. We investigated associations between MHC diversity and resistance to brevetoxins in common bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus). A previous genome-wide association study investigating an apparent difference in harmful algal bloom (HAB) resistance among dolphin populations in the Gulf of Mexico identified genetic variation associated with survival in close genomic proximity to multiple MHC class II loci. Here, we characterized genetic variation at DQA, DQB, DRA, and DRB loci in dolphins from central-west Florida and the Florida Panhandle, including dolphins that died during HABs and dolphins presumed to have survived HAB exposure. We found that DRB and DQB exhibited patterns of genetic differentiation among geographic regions that differed from neutral microsatellite loci. In addition, genetic differentiation at DRB across multiple pairwise comparisons of live and dead dolphins was greater than differentiation observed at neutral loci. Our findings at these MHC loci did not approach the strength of association with survival previously described for a nearby genetic variant. However, the results provide evidence that selective pressures at the MHC vary among dolphin populations that differ in the frequency of HAB exposure and that the overall composition of DRB variants differs between dolphin survivors and non-survivors of HABs. These results may suggest a potential role of MHC diversity in variable survival of bottlenose dolphins exposed to HABs.
Cammen, KM; Wilcox, LA; Rosel, PE; Wells, RS; Read, AJ
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