Identification of a Colonial Chordate Histocompatibility Gene

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Science  26 Jul 2013:
Vol. 341, Issue 6144, pp. 384-387
DOI: 10.1126/science.1238036

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A Gene for Early Acceptance

One of the fundamental properties of the immune system is the ability to distinguish self- from nonself–histocompatibility. To gain insight into the evolution and molecular basis of histocompatibility, Voskoboynik et al. (p. 384) sought to determine the genetic basis for a natural transplantation reaction that occurs in Botryllus schlosseri, a colonial urochordate. Compatibility allows vascular fusion among individuals, whereas incompatibility results in an inflammatory rejection response. A single gene determined the outcome of the reaction. Like histocompatibility genes in higher organisms, this gene is polymorphic and is expressed in the tissues that participate in the transplantation reaction.


Histocompatibility is the basis by which multicellular organisms of the same species distinguish self from nonself. Relatively little is known about the mechanisms underlying histocompatibility reactions in lower organisms. Botryllus schlosseri is a colonial urochordate, a sister group of vertebrates, that exhibits a genetically determined natural transplantation reaction, whereby self-recognition between colonies leads to formation of parabionts with a common vasculature, whereas rejection occurs between incompatible colonies. Using genetically defined lines, whole-transcriptome sequencing, and genomics, we identified a single gene that encodes self–nonself and determines “graft” outcomes in this organism. This gene is significantly up-regulated in colonies poised to undergo fusion and/or rejection, is highly expressed in the vasculature, and is functionally linked to histocompatibility outcomes. These findings establish a platform for advancing the science of allorecognition.

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