Brief review of the chicken Major Histocompatibility Complex: the genes, their distribution on chromosome 16, and their contributions to disease resistance

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Nearly all genes presently mapped to chicken chromosome 16 (GGA 16) have either a demonstrated role in immune responses or are considered to serve in immunity by reason of sequence homology with immune system genes defined in other species. The genes are best described in regional units. Among these, the best known is the polymorphic major histocompatibility complex-B (MHC-B) region containing genes for classical peptide antigen presentation. Nearby MHC-B is a small region containing two CD1 genes, which encode molecules known to bind lipid antigens and which will likely be found in chickens to present lipids to specialized T cells, as occurs with CD1 molecules in other species. Another region is the MHC-Y region, separated from MHC-B by an intervening region of tandem repeats. Like MHC-B, MHC-Y is polymorphic. It contains specialized class I and class II genes and c-type lectin-like genes. Yet another region, separated from MHC-Y by the single nucleolar organizing region (NOR) in the chicken genome, contains olfactory receptor genes and scavenger receptor genes, which are also thought to contribute to immunity. The structure, distribution, linkages and patterns of polymorphism in these regions, suggest GGA 16 evolves as a microchromosome devoted to immune defense. Many GGA 16 genes are polymorphic and polygenic. At the moment most disease associations are at the haplotype level. Roles of individual MHC genes in disease resistance are documented in only a very few instances. Provided suitable experimental stocks persist, the availability of increasingly detailed maps of GGA 16 genes combined with new means for detecting genetic variability will lead to investigations defining the contributions of individual loci and more applications for immunogenetics in breeding healthy poultry.

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