Differential expression of immune response genes in Steller sea lions (Eumetopias jubatus): An indicator of ecosystem health?

Lizabeth Bowen, Brian Aldridge, Kimberlee Beckmen, Tom Gelatt, Lorrie Rea, Kathy Burek, Ken Pitcher, Jeffrey L. Stott

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Characterization of the polygenic and polymorphic features of the Steller sea lion major histocompatibility complex (MHC) provides an ideal window for evaluating immunologic vigor of the population and identifying emergence of new genotypes that reflect ecosystem pressures. MHC genotyping can be used to measure the potential immunologic vigor of a population. However, since ecosystem-induced changes to MHC genotype can be slow to emerge, measurement of differential expression of these genes can potentially provide real-time evidence of immunologic perturbations. MHC DRB genes were cloned and sequenced using peripheral blood mononuclear leukocytes derived from 10 Steller sea lions from Southeast Alaska, Prince William Sound, and the Aleutian Islands. Nine unique DRB gene sequences were represented in each of 10 animals. MHC DRB gene expression was measured in a subset of six sea lions. Although DRB in genomic DNA was identical in all individuals, relative levels of expressed DRB mRNA was highly variable. Selective suppression of MHC DRB genes could be indicative of geographically disparate environmental pressures, thereby serving as an immediate and sensitive indicator of population and ecosystem health.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)109-113
Number of pages5
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2006
Externally publishedYes


  • Ecosystem health
  • Steller sea lion

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


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