U.S. Department of Commerce


Date of this Version



EcoHealth (2006) 3: 109–113.


U.S. government work.


Characterization of the polygenic and polymorphic features of the Steller sea lion major histocompatibility complex (MHC) provides an ideal window for evaluating immunologic vigor of the population and identifying emergence of new genotypes that reflect ecosystem pressures. MHC genotyping can be used to measure the potential immunologic vigor of a population. However, since ecosystem-induced changes to MHC genotype can be slow to emerge, measurement of differential expression of these genes can potentially provide real-time evidence of immunologic perturbations. MHC DRB genes were cloned and sequenced using peripheral blood mononuclear leukocytes derived from 10 Steller sea lions from southeast Alaska, Prince William Sound, and the Aleutian Islands. Nine unique DRB gene sequences were represented in each of ten animals. MHC DRB gene expression was measured in a subset of six sea lions. Although DRB in genomic DNA was identical in all individuals, relative levels of expressed DRB mRNA was highly variable. Selective suppression of MHC DRB genes could be indicative of geographically disparate environmental pressures, thereby serving as an immediate and sensitive indicator of population and ecosystem health.