In contrast to the major histocompatibility complex (MHC) of well-studied mammals such as humans and mice, the particular haplotype of the B-F/B-L region of the chicken B locus determines life and death in response to certain infectious pathogens as well as to certain vaccines. We found that the B-F/B-L region is much smaller and simpler than the typical mammalian MHC, with an important difference being the expression of a single class I gene at a high level of RNA and protein. The peptide-binding specificity of this dominantly expressed class I molecule in different haplotypes correlates with resistance to tumours caused by Rous sarcoma virus, while the cell-surface expression level correlates with susceptibility to tumours caused by Marek's disease virus. A similar story is developing with class II β genes and response to killed viral vaccines. This apparently suicidal strategy of single dominantly expressed class I and class II molecules may be due to coevolution between genes within the compact chicken MHC.