Divergent Allele Advantage Provides a Quantitative Model for Maintaining Alleles with a Wide Range of Intrinsic Merits Academic Article uri icon


  • The Major Histocompatibility Complex (MHC) is the most genetically diverse region of the genome in most vertebrates. Some form of balancing selection is necessary to account for the extreme diversity, but the precise mechanism of balancing selection is unknown. Due to the way MHC molecules determine immune recognition, overdominance (also referred to as heterozygote advantage) has been suggested as the main driving force behind this unrivalled diversity. However, both theoretical results and simulation models have shown that overdominance in its classical form cannot maintain large numbers of alleles unless all alleles confer unrealistically similar levels of fitness. There is increasing evidence that heterozygotes containing genetically divergent alleles allow for broader antigen presentation to immune cells, providing a selective mechanism for MHC polymorphism. By framing competing models of overdominance within a general framework, we show that a model based on Divergent Allele Advantage (DAA) provides a superior mechanism for maintaining alleles with a wide range of intrinsic merits, as intrinsically less-fit MHC alleles that are more divergent can survive under DAA. Specifically, our results demonstrate that a quantitative mechanism built from the DAA hypothesis is able to maintain polymorphism in the MHC. Applying such a model to both livestock breeding and conservation could provide a better way of identifying superior heterozygotes, and quantifying the advantages of genetic diversity at the MHC.


  • Stefan, Thorsten
  • Matthews, Louise
  • Prada, Joaquin M
  • Mair, Colette
  • Reeve, Richard
  • Stear, Michael J

publication date

  • 2019