The nucleotide sequences encoding 14 HLA-A,B,C and 5 ChLA-A,B,C molecules have been determined. Combining these sequences with published data has enabled the polymorphism in 40 HLA-A,B,C and 9 ChLA-A,B,C alleles to be analyzed. Diversity is generated through assortment of point mutations by recombinational mechanisms including gene and allelic conversions. The distribution and frequency of silent and replacement substitutions indicate that there has been positive selection for allelic diversity in the 5' part of the gene (exons 1 to 3) and for allelic homogenization and locus specificity in the 3' part of the gene (exons 4 to 8). These differences may correlate with the lengths of converted sequences in the two parts of the gene and frequency of the CpG dinucleotide. Locus-specific divergence of HLA-A,B, and C demonstrates that recombinational events involving alleles of a locus have been more important than conversion between loci. This contrasts with the predominance of gene conversion events in the evolution of mutants of the H-2Kb gene. However, a striking example of gene conversion involving HLA-B and C alleles of an oriental haplotype has been found. Comparison of human and chimpanzee alleles reveals extensive sharing of polymorphisms, confirming that diversification is a slow process, and that much of contemporary polymorphism originated in ancestral primate species before the emergence of Homo sapiens. There is less polymorphism at the HLA-A locus compared to HLA-B, with greater similarity also being seen between HLA-A and ChLA-A alleles than between HLA-B and ChLA-B alleles. Although greater diversity is seen in the 5' "variable" exons of HLA-B compared to HLA-A, there is increased heterogeneity in the 3' "conserved" exons of HLA-A compared to HLA-B.

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