To resolve issues regarding the evolution of D region class I MHC genes and their relationship to other class I-encoding regions of the mouse, as well as man, we characterized the class I genes from the Dq region of the B10.AKM mouse strain. The Dq region was selected because it was known to express multiple gene products, yet two of the products previously characterized have structural features in common with the Ld molecule. Since DNA hybridization data defined similarities between the Dd and Dq regions, we used low-copy genomic or oligonucleotide probes derived from the Dd region of BALB/c (H-2d) to screen a B10.AKM cosmid library. Cosmid clones containing Dq, D2q, D3q, D4q, Lq, and Q1q genes have been isolated and aligned with the corresponding genes of the BALB/c MHC, thus demonstrating a similar gene organization. The two classical transplantation genes, Dq and Lq were found to be strikingly similar to each other such that exons 1-3 of Dq and Lq, are approximately 97% homologous, and exons 4-8 are identical. Furthermore, the implied amino acid sequences of both Lq and Dq molecules show considerable homology to Ld, particularly in regions presumed to be involved in ligand binding. These comparisons suggest not only that the Dq and Lq genes arose from the duplication of an Ld-like progenitor, but also that there is a selective advantage for the maintenance of an Ld-like structure. In addition, the 5' portion of the D4q gene was sequenced and found to have a 13-bp deletion and a 4-bp insertion within the alpha 2 exon. These result in a frame shift that creates a premature termination codon and potential polyadenylation site, respectively. Thus, D4q does not encode a typical class I molecule. Sequence comparisons suggest that the D4q gene did not arise from a duplication event involving an Ld-like gene such as Dq and Lq. Interestingly, the D4q molecule, if produced, would have amino acid residues in common with K and/or Q molecules that differ from those observed in D/L molecules. These findings, in conjunction with hybridization data, provide evidence that the D2, D3, and D4 genes were derived from Q genes by an unequal crossover event. Additional hybridization data using low-copy D region probes suggest that several different D region gene organizations exist among mice of different haplotypes. These and other recent molecular studies provide multiple examples of expansion and contraction of the class I genes in the D region.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)

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