An extraordinary diversity of amino acid sequences in the peptide-binding region (PBR) of human leukocyte antigen [HLA; human major histocompatibility complex (MHC)] molecules has been maintained by balancing selection. The process of accumulation of amino acid diversity in the PBR for six HLA genes (HLA-A, B, C, DRB1, DQB1, and DPB1) shows that the number of amino acid substitutions in the PBR among alleles does not linearly correlate with the divergence time of alleles at the six HLA loci. At these loci, some pairs of alleles show a significantly less number of nonsynonymous substitutions at the PBR than expected, from the divergence time. The same phenomenon was observed not only in the HLA but also in the rat MHC. To identify the cause for this, DRB1 sequences, a representative case of a typical non-linear pattern of substitutions, were examined. When the amino acid substitutions in the PBR were placed with maximum parsimony on a maximum likelihood tree based on the non-PBR substitutions, heterogeneous rates of nonsynonymous substitutions in the PBR were observed on several branches. A computer simulation supported the hypothesis that allelic pairs with low PBR substitution rates were responsible for the stagnation of accumulation of PBR nonsynonymous substitutions. From these observations, we conclude that the nonsynonymous substitution rate at the PBR sites is not constant among the allelic lineages. The deceleration of the rate may be caused by the coexistence of certain pathogens for a substantially long time during HLA evolution.
Yasukochi, Y., & Satta, Y. (2014). Nonsynonymous Substitution Rate Heterogeneity in the Peptide-Binding Region Among Different HLA-DRB1 Lineages in Humans . G3&#58; Genes|Genomes|Genetics, 4(7), 1217–1226. https://doi.org/10.1534/g3.114.011726