The Mamu-A, Mamu-B, and Mamu-DRB genes of the rhesus macaque show several levels of complexity such as allelic heterogeneity (polymorphism), copy number variation, differential segregation of genes/alleles present on a haplotype (diversity) and transcription level differences. A combination of techniques was implemented to screen a large panel of pedigreed Indian rhesus macaques (1,384 individuals representing the offspring of 137 founding animals) for haplotype diversity in an efficient and inexpensive manner. This approach allowed the definition of 140 haplotypes that display a relatively low degree of region variation as reflected by the presence of only 17 A, 18 B and 22 DRB types, respectively, exhibiting a global linkage disequilibrium comparable to that in humans. This finding contrasts with the situation observed in rhesus macaques from other geographic origins and in cynomolgus monkeys from Indonesia. In these latter populations, nearly every haplotype appears to be characterised by a unique A, B and DRB region. In the Indian population, however, a reshuffling of existing segments generated "new" haplotypes. Since the recombination frequency within the core MHC of the Indian rhesus macaques is relatively low, the various haplotypes were most probably produced by recombination events that accumulated over a long evolutionary time span. This idea is in accord with the notion that Indian rhesus macaques experienced a severe reduction in population during the Pleistocene due to a bottleneck caused by geographic changes. Thus, recombination-like processes appear to be a way to expand a diminished genetic repertoire in an isolated and relatively small founder population.
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