Does MHC heterozygosity influence microbiota form and function?
MHC molecules are essential for the adaptive immune response, and they are the most polymorphic genetic loci in vertebrates. Extreme genetic variation at these loci is paradoxical given their central importance to host health. Classic models of MHC gene evolution center on antagonistic host-pathogen interactions to promote gene diversification and allelic diversity in host populations. However, all multicellular organisms are persistently colonized by their microbiota that perform essential metabolic functions for their host and protect from infection. Here, we provide data to support the hypothesis that MHC heterozygote advantage (a main force of selection thought to drive MHC gene evolution), may operate by enhancing fitness advantages conferred by the host’s microbiome. We utilized fecal 16S rRNA gene sequences and their predicted metagenome datasets collected from multiple MHC congenic homozygote and heterozygote mouse strains to describe the influence of MHC heterozygosity on microbiome form and function. We find that in contrast to homozygosity at MHC loci, MHC heterozygosity promotes functional diversification of the microbiome, enhances microbial network connectivity, and results in enrichment for a variety of microbial functions that are positively associated with host fitness. We demonstrate that taxonomic and functional diversity of the microbiome is positively correlated in MHC heterozygote but not homozygote animals, suggesting that heterozygote microbiomes are more functionally adaptive under similar environmental conditions than homozygote microbiomes. Our data complement previous observations on the role of MHC polymorphism in sculpting microbiota composition, but also provide functional insights into how MHC heterozygosity may enhance host health by modulating microbiome form and function. We also provide evidence to support that MHC heterozygosity limits functional redundancy among commensal microbes and may enhance the metabolic versatility of their microbiome. Results from our analyses yield multiple testable predictions regarding the role of MHC heterozygosity on the microbiome that will help guide future research in the area of MHC-microbiome interactions.