In vitro tests of natural allelic variation of innate immune genes (avian β-defensins) reveal functional differences in microbial inhibition.
Hellgren O., Sheldon BC., Buckling A.
Allelic variation in immune genes might result from, and contribute to, host-pathogen evolution. Functional allelic variation in the innate immune system has received little attention. Here, we investigate whether naturally occurring allelic variation within the avian innate immune system (β-defensins) is associated with variation in antimicrobial activity. We tested differences in in vitro antimicrobial properties of the synthesized products of two alleles of avian β-defensin 7, both of which occur at high frequency in natural populations of the great tit (Parus major). Only one allele strongly inhibited the growth of the gram-positive bacterium Staphylococcus aureus, but both alleles strongly inhibited growth of the gram-negative bacterium Escherechia coli. Our data demonstrate functional allelic variation in natural defensin genes, and we discuss how differences in efficacy against microbial species might contribute to maintaining this variation.