The MHC class II loci encoding cell surface antigens exhibit extremely high allelic polymorphism. There is considerable uncertainty in the literature over the relative roles of recombination and de novo mutation in generating this diversity. We studied class II sequence diversity and allelic polymorphism in two populations of Peromyscus maniculatus, which are among the most widespread and abundant mammals of North America. We find that intragenic recombination (or gene conversion) has been the predominant mode for the generation of allelic polymorphism in this species, with the amount of population recombination per base pair exceeding mutation by at least an order of magnitude during the history of the sample. Despite this, patchwork motifs of sites with high linkage disequilibrium are observed. This does not appear to be consistent with the much larger amount of recombination versus mutation in the history of the sample, unless the recombination rate is highly non-uniform over the sequence or selection maintains certain sites in linkage disequilibrium. We conclude that selection is most likely to be responsible for preserving sequence motifs in the presence of abundant recombination.
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