The evolutionary origin of genetic diversity in the SLAM/CD2 gene cluster, implicated in autoimmune lupus susceptibility in mice, was investigated by sequence analysis of exons from six members of the cluster in 48 wild mouse samples derived from the global mouse population. A total of 80 coding region SNPs were identified among the six genes analyzed, indicating that this gene cluster is highly polymorphic in natural mouse populations. Phylogenetic analyses of these allelic sequences revealed clustering of alleles derived from multiple Mus species and subspecies, indicating alleles at several SLAM/CD2 loci were present in ancestral Mus populations prior to speciation and have persisted as polymorphisms for more than 1 million years. Analyses of nonsynonymous/synonymous ratios using likelihood codon substitution models identified several segments in Cd229, Cd48 and Cd84 that were impacted by positive diversifying selective pressures. These findings support the interpretation that selection favoring the generation and retention of functional polymorphisms has played a role in the evolutionary origin of genetic polymorphisms that are predisposing to autoimmunity.
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