Malaria parasites are a major cause of human mortality in tropical countries and a potential threat for wildlife, as witnessed by the malaria-induced extinction of naive Hawaiian avifauna. Identifying resistance mechanisms is therefore crucial both for human health and wildlife conservation. Patterns of malaria resistance are known to be highly polygenic in both humans and mice, with marked contributions attributed to major histocompatibility (Mhc) genes. Here we show that specific Mhc variants are linked to both increased resistance and susceptibility to malaria infection in a wild passerine species, the house sparrow (Passer domesticus). In addition, links between host immunogenetics and resistance to malaria involved population-specific alleles, suggesting local adaptation in this host-parasite interaction. This is the first evidence for a population-specific genetic control of resistance to malaria in a wild species.
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Vol. 60 • No. 2