Nonclassical MHC class Ib (class Ib) genes are heterogeneous genes encoding molecules that are structurally similar to classical MHC class Ia molecules but with limited tissue distribution and polymorphism. Mammalian class Ib genes have diverse and often uncharacterized functions, and because of their rapid rate of evolution, class Ib phylogeny is difficult to establish. We have conducted an extensive genomic, molecular, and phylogenetic characterization of class Ib genes in two Xenopodinae amphibian species of different genera that diverged from a common ancestor as long ago as primates and rodents (∼65 million years). In contrast with the unsteadiness of mammalian class Ib genes, our results reveal an unusual degree of conservation of most Xenopodinae class Ib gene lineages, including a novel monogenic lineage represented by the divergent Xenopus laevis XNC10 gene and its unequivocal Silurana (Xenopus) tropicalis orthologue, SNC10. The preferential expression of this gene lineage by thymocytes themselves from the onset of thymic organogenesis is consistent with a specialized role of class Ib in early T cell development and suggests such a function is conserved in all tetrapods.
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