Sequence variation at the major histocompatibility complex locus DQ beta in beluga whales (Delphinapterus leucas)
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Genetic variation at the Major Histocompatibility Complex locus DQ beta was analyzed in 233 beluga whales (Delphinapterus leucas) from seven populations: St. Lawrence Estuary, eastern Beaufort Sea, eastern Chukchi Sea, western Hudson Bay, eastern Hudson Bay, southeastern Baffin Island, and High Arctic and in 12 narwhals (Monodon monoceros) sympatric with the High Arctic beluga population. Variation was assessed by amplification of the exon coding for the peptide binding region via the polymerase chain reaction, followed by either cloning and DNA sequencing or single-stranded conformation polymorphism analysis. Five alleles were found across the beluga populations and one in the narwhal. Pairwise comparisons of these alleles showed a 5:1 ratio of nonsynonymous to synonymous substitutions per site leading to eight amino acid differences, five of which were nonconservative substitutions, centered around positions previously shown to be important for peptide binding. Although the amount of allelic variation is low when compared with terrestrial mammals, the nature of the substitutions in the peptide binding sites indicates an important role for the DQ beta locus in the cellular immune response of beluga whales. Comparisons of allele frequencies among populations show the High Arctic population to be different (P < or = .005) from the other beluga populations surveyed. In these other populations an allele, Dele-DQ beta*0101-2, was found in 98% of the animals, while in the High Arctic it was found in only 52% of the animals. Two other alleles were found at high frequencies in the High Arctic population, one being very similar to the single allele found in narwhal.
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