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1.  Virus Encoded MHC-Like Decoys Diversify the Inhibitory KIR Repertoire 
PLoS Computational Biology  2013;9(10):e1003264.
Natural killer (NK) cells are circulating lymphocytes that play an important role in the control of viral infections and tumors. Their functions are regulated by several activating and inhibitory receptors. A subset of these receptors in human NK cells are the killer immunoglobulin-like receptors (KIRs), which interact with the highly polymorphic MHC class I molecules. One important function of NK cells is to detect cells that have down-regulated MHC expression (missing-self). Because MHC molecules have non polymorphic regions, their expression could have been monitored with a limited set of monomorphic receptors. Surprisingly, the KIR family has a remarkable genetic diversity, the function of which remains poorly understood. The mouse cytomegalovirus (MCMV) is able to evade NK cell responses by coding “decoy” molecules that mimic MHC class I. This interaction was suggested to have driven the evolution of novel NK cell receptors. Inspired by the MCMV system, we develop an agent-based model of a host population infected with viruses that are able to evolve MHC down-regulation and decoy molecules. Our simulations show that specific recognition of MHC class I molecules by inhibitory KIRs provides excellent protection against viruses evolving decoys, and that the diversity of inhibitory KIRs will subsequently evolve as a result of the required discrimination between host MHC molecules and decoy molecules.
Author Summary
Human natural killer (NK) cells patrol peripheral tissue, monitoring changes on the surface of body cells. They express a network of activating and inhibitory receptors called the killer immunoglobulin-like receptors (KIRs). The main ligands of inhibitory KIRs are MHC class I molecules, which present viral peptides to other immune cells. Several herpes viruses interfere with MHC expression, and when a virus down-regulates MHC class I, NK cells loose an inhibitory signal, become activated and kill the infected cell. The KIR family has a large genetic diversity. However, for the recognition of “missing” MHC molecules this diversity seems redundant as one set of receptors should be sufficient. To study why the KIR system has evolved such a high complexity, we developed an in-silico model, simulating the evolution of populations infected with a herpes-like virus. Next to down regulating MHC-I molecules, these viruses are able to escape the NK cell response by expressing MHC-decoys engaging the inhibitory KIRs. We show that specific KIR-MHC interactions protect against viruses expressing decoys. Because of the provided protection, specific inhibitory KIRs have an evolutionary advantage, giving rise to a high level of diversity. We propose that herpes-like viruses evolving decoys affect in the evolution of KIRs.
PMCID: PMC3794908  PMID: 24130473
2.  Co-evolution of Human Leukocyte Antigen (HLA) Class I Ligands with Killer-Cell Immunoglobulin-Like Receptors (KIR) in a Genetically Diverse Population of Sub-Saharan Africans 
PLoS Genetics  2013;9(10):e1003938.
Interactions between HLA class I molecules and killer-cell immunoglobulin-like receptors (KIR) control natural killer cell (NK) functions in immunity and reproduction. Encoded by genes on different chromosomes, these polymorphic ligands and receptors correlate highly with disease resistance and susceptibility. Although studied at low-resolution in many populations, high-resolution analysis of combinatorial diversity of HLA class I and KIR is limited to Asian and Amerindian populations with low genetic diversity. At the other end of the spectrum is the West African population investigated here: we studied 235 individuals, including 104 mother-child pairs, from the Ga-Adangbe of Ghana. This population has a rich diversity of 175 KIR variants forming 208 KIR haplotypes, and 81 HLA-A, -B and -C variants forming 190 HLA class I haplotypes. Each individual we studied has a unique compound genotype of HLA class I and KIR, forming 1–14 functional ligand-receptor interactions. Maintaining this exceptionally high polymorphism is balancing selection. The centromeric region of the KIR locus, encoding HLA-C receptors, is highly diverse whereas the telomeric region encoding Bw4-specific KIR3DL1, lacks diversity in Africans. Present in the Ga-Adangbe are high frequencies of Bw4-bearing HLA-B*53:01 and Bw4-lacking HLA-B*35:01, which otherwise are identical. Balancing selection at key residues maintains numerous HLA-B allotypes having and lacking Bw4, and also those of stronger and weaker interaction with LILRB1, a KIR-related receptor. Correspondingly, there is a balance at key residues of KIR3DL1 that modulate its level of cell-surface expression. Thus, capacity to interact with NK cells synergizes with peptide binding diversity to drive HLA-B allele frequency distribution. These features of KIR and HLA are consistent with ongoing co-evolution and selection imposed by a pathogen endemic to West Africa. Because of the prevalence of malaria in the Ga-Adangbe and previous associations of cerebral malaria with HLA-B*53:01 and KIR, Plasmodium falciparum is a candidate pathogen.
Author Summary
Natural killer cells are white blood cells with critical roles in human health that deliver front-line immunity against pathogens and nurture placentation in early pregnancy. Controlling these functions are cell-surface receptors called KIR that interact with HLA class I ligands expressed on most cells of the body. KIR and HLA are both products of complex families of variable genes, but present on separate chromosomes. Many HLA and KIR variants and their combinations associate with resistance to specific infections and pregnancy syndromes. Previously we identified basic components of the system necessary for individual and population survival. Here, we explore the system at its most genetically diverse by studying the Ga-Adangbe population from Ghana in West Africa. Co-evolution of KIR receptors with their HLA targets is ongoing in the Ga-Adangbe, with every one of 235 individuals studied having a unique set of KIR receptors and HLA class I ligands. In addition, one critical combination of receptor and ligand maintains alternative forms that either can or cannot interact with their ‘partner.’ This balance resembles that induced by malfunctioning variants of hemoglobin that confer resistance to malaria, a candidate disease for driving diversity and co-evolution of KIR and HLA class I in the Ga-Adangbe.
PMCID: PMC3814319  PMID: 24204327
3.  Primate-Specific Regulation of Natural Killer Cells 
Journal of medical primatology  2010;39(4):194-212.
Natural killer (NK) cells are circulating lymphocytes that function in innate immunity and placental reproduction. Regulating both development and function of NK cells is an array of variable and conserved receptors that interact with major histocompatibility complex (MHC) class I molecules. Families of lectin-like and immunoglobulin-like receptors are determined by genes in the natural killer (NKC) and leukocyte receptor (LRC) complexes, respectively. As a consequence of the strong, varying pressures on the immune and reproductive systems, NK cell receptors and their MHC class I ligands evolve rapidly, are highly diverse, and exhibit dramatic species-specific differences. The variable, polymorphic family of killer cell immunoglobulin-like receptors (KIR) that regulate human NK cell development and function evolved recently, from a single-copy gene during the evolution of simian primates. Our studies of KIR and MHC class I genes in representative species show how these two unlinked but functionally intertwined genetic complexes have co-evolved. In humans, combinations of KIR and HLA class I factors are associated with infectious diseases, including HIV/AIDS, autoimmunity, reproductive success and the outcome of therapeutic transplantation. The extraordinary, and unanticipated, divergence of human NK cell receptors and MHC class I ligands from their mouse counterparts can in part explain the difficulties experienced in finding informative mouse models for human diseases. Non-human primate models have far greater potential, but to realize their promise will first require more complete definition of the genetics and function of KIR and MHC variation in non-human primate species, at a level comparable to that achieved for the human species.
PMCID: PMC2921375  PMID: 20618586
Non-human primates; NK cells; KIR; MHC; innate immunity
4.  Definition of the Cattle Killer Cell Immunoglobulin-like Receptor Gene Family: Comparison to Aurochs and Human Counterparts 
Under selection pressure from pathogens, variable NK cell receptors that recognize polymorphic MHC class I, evolved convergently in different species of placental mammal. Unexpectedly, the killer cell immunoglobulin-like receptors (KIR) are shared by simian primates, including humans, and cattle but not by other species. Whereas much is known of human KIR genetics and genomics, knowledge of cattle KIR is limited to nine cDNA sequences. To facilitate comparison of the cattle and human KIR gene families, we determined the genomic location, structure and sequence of two cattle KIR haplotypes and defined KIR sequences of aurochs, the extinct wild ancestor of domestic cattle. Larger than its human counterpart, the cattle KIR locus evolved through successive duplications of a block containing ancestral KIR3DL and KIR3DX genes that existed before placental mammals. Comparison of two cattle KIR haplotypes and aurochs KIR show the KIR are polymorphic and the gene organization and content appears conserved. Of 18 genes 8 are functional and 10 were inactivated by point mutation. Selective inactivation of KIR3DL and activating receptor genes, leaves a functional cohort of one inhibitory KIR3DL, one activating KIR3DX and six inhibitory KIR3DX. Functional KIR diversity evolved from KIR3DX in cattle and from KIR3DL in simian primates. Although independently evolved, cattle and human KIR gene families share important function-related key properties, indicating that cattle KIR are NK cell receptors for cattle MHC class I. Combinations of KIR and MHC class I are the major genetic factors associated with human disease and merits investigation in cattle.
PMCID: PMC4258407  PMID: 25398326
5.  Effects of Peptide on NK Cell-Mediated MHC I Recognition 
The inhibitory receptors for MHC class I have a central role in controlling natural killer (NK) cell activity. Soon after their discovery, it was found that these receptors have a degree of peptide selectivity. Such peptide selectivity has been demonstrated for all inhibitory killer cell immunoglobulin-like receptor (KIR) tested to date, certain activating KIR, and also members of the C-type lectin-like family of receptors. This selectivity is much broader than the peptide specificity of T cell receptors, with NK cell receptors recognizing peptide motifs, rather than individual peptides. Inhibitory receptors on NK cells can survey the peptide:MHC complexes expressed on the surface of target cells, therefore subsequent transduction of an inhibitory signal depends on the overall peptide content of these MHC class I complexes. Functionally, KIR-expressing NK cells have been shown to be unexpectedly sensitive to changes in the peptide content of MHC class I, as peptide:MHC class I complexes that weakly engage KIR can antagonize the inhibitory signals generated by engagement of stronger KIR-binding peptide:MHC class I complexes. This property provides KIR-expressing NK cells with the potential to recognize changes in the peptide:MHC class I repertoire, which may occur during viral infections and tumorigenesis. By contrast, in the presence of HLA class I leader peptides, virus-derived peptides can induce a synergistic inhibition of CD94:NKG2A-expressing NK cells through recruitment of CD94 in the absence of NKG2A. On the other hand, CD94:NKG2A-positive NK cells can be exquisitely sensitive to changes in the levels of MHC class I. Peptide antagonism and sensitivity to changes in MHC class I levels are properties that distinguish KIR and CD94:NKG2A. The subtle difference in the properties of NK cells expressing these receptors provides a rationale for having complementary inhibitory receptor systems for MHC class I.
PMCID: PMC3978238  PMID: 24744756
KIR; NKG2A; CD94; peptides; MHC class I; natural killer cells; antagonism; synergy
6.  Human-Specific Evolution and Adaptation Led to Major Qualitative Differences in the Variable Receptors of Human and Chimpanzee Natural Killer Cells 
PLoS Genetics  2010;6(11):e1001192.
Natural killer (NK) cells serve essential functions in immunity and reproduction. Diversifying these functions within individuals and populations are rapidly-evolving interactions between highly polymorphic major histocompatibility complex (MHC) class I ligands and variable NK cell receptors. Specific to simian primates is the family of Killer cell Immunoglobulin-like Receptors (KIR), which recognize MHC class I and associate with a range of human diseases. Because KIR have considerable species-specificity and are lacking from common animal models, we performed extensive comparison of the systems of KIR and MHC class I interaction in humans and chimpanzees. Although of similar complexity, they differ in genomic organization, gene content, and diversification mechanisms, mainly because of human-specific specialization in the KIR that recognizes the C1 and C2 epitopes of MHC-B and -C. Humans uniquely focused KIR recognition on MHC-C, while losing C1-bearing MHC-B. Reversing this trend, C1-bearing HLA-B46 was recently driven to unprecedented high frequency in Southeast Asia. Chimpanzees have a variety of ancient, avid, and predominantly inhibitory receptors, whereas human receptors are fewer, recently evolved, and combine avid inhibitory receptors with attenuated activating receptors. These differences accompany human-specific evolution of the A and B haplotypes that are under balancing selection and differentially function in defense and reproduction. Our study shows how the qualitative differences that distinguish the human and chimpanzee systems of KIR and MHC class I predominantly derive from adaptations on the human line in response to selective pressures placed on human NK cells by the competing needs of defense and reproduction.
Author Summary
Natural killer (NK) cells are versatile lymphocytes that make essential contributions to immune defense and placental reproduction. Essential to NK cell development, diversification and function are variable families of surface receptors that recognize equally variable determinants of polymorphic major histocompatibility complex (MHC) class I molecules, better known as the tissue types matched in clinical organ transplantation. These ligand-receptor interactions evolve rapidly, exhibiting much species specificity and convergent evolution. Consequently, mice represent a poor model, because their receptors are so disparate from the independently evolved human counterparts that are restricted to simian primates. To identify unique and shared aspects of human NK cell biology, we have defined the genomics, population biology, and immunology of variable chimpanzee NK cell receptors and ligands to a level permitting accurate, informed comparison with the well-characterized human system. In both receptors and ligands there are dramatic, qualitative differences between humans and chimpanzees. We show these differences arose during human evolution from the last common human–chimpanzee ancestor, while the chimpanzee system remained relatively stable. That two so closely related species exhibit major differences in NK cell receptors and ligands testifies to the strong and varying selection imposed by the different demands and competing needs of defense and reproduction.
PMCID: PMC2973822  PMID: 21079681
7.  Identification of the ancestral killer immunoglobulin-like receptor gene in primates 
BMC Genomics  2006;7:209.
Killer Immunoglobulin-like Receptors (KIR) are essential immuno-surveillance molecules. They are expressed on natural killer and T cells, and interact with human leukocyte antigens. KIR genes are highly polymorphic and contribute vital variability to our immune system. Numerous KIR genes, belonging to five distinct lineages, have been identified in all primates examined thus far and shown to be rapidly evolving. Since few KIR remain orthologous between species, with only one of them, KIR2DL4, shown to be common to human, apes and monkeys, the evolution of the KIR gene family in primates remains unclear.
Using comparative analyses, we have identified the ancestral KIR lineage (provisionally named KIR3DL0) in primates. We show KIR3DL0 to be highly conserved with the identification of orthologues in human (Homo sapiens), common chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes), gorilla (Gorilla gorilla), rhesus monkey (Macaca mulatta) and common marmoset (Callithrix jacchus). We predict KIR3DL0 to encode a functional molecule in all primates by demonstrating expression in human, chimpanzee and rhesus monkey. Using the rhesus monkey as a model, we further show the expression profile to be typical of KIR by quantitative measurement of KIR3DL0 from an enriched population of natural killer cells.
One reason why KIR3DL0 may have escaped discovery for so long is that, in human, it maps in between two related leukocyte immunoglobulin-like receptor clusters outside the known KIR gene cluster on Chromosome 19. Based on genomic, cDNA, expression and phylogenetic data, we report a novel lineage of immunoglobulin receptors belonging to the KIR family, which is highly conserved throughout 50 million years of primate evolution.
PMCID: PMC1559706  PMID: 16911775
8.  Definition of the Cattle Killer Cell Ig–like Receptor Gene Family: Comparison with Aurochs and Human Counterparts 
The Journal of Immunology Author Choice  2014;193(12):6016-6030.
Under selection pressure from pathogens, variable NK cell receptors that recognize polymorphic MHC class I evolved convergently in different species of placental mammal. Unexpectedly, diversified killer cell Ig–like receptors (KIRs) are shared by simian primates, including humans, and cattle, but not by other species. Whereas much is known of human KIR genetics and genomics, knowledge of cattle KIR is limited to nine cDNA sequences. To facilitate comparison of the cattle and human KIR gene families, we determined the genomic location, structure, and sequence of two cattle KIR haplotypes and defined KIR sequences of aurochs, the extinct wild ancestor of domestic cattle. Larger than its human counterpart, the cattle KIR locus evolved through successive duplications of a block containing ancestral KIR3DL and KIR3DX genes that existed before placental mammals. Comparison of two cattle KIR haplotypes and aurochs KIR show the KIR are polymorphic and the gene organization and content appear conserved. Of 18 genes, 8 are functional and 10 were inactivated by point mutation. Selective inactivation of KIR3DL and activating receptor genes leaves a functional cohort of one inhibitory KIR3DL, one activating KIR3DX, and six inhibitory KIR3DX. Functional KIR diversity evolved from KIR3DX in cattle and from KIR3DL in simian primates. Although independently evolved, cattle and human KIR gene families share important function-related properties, indicating that cattle KIR are NK cell receptors for cattle MHC class I. Combinations of KIR and MHC class I are the major genetic factors associated with human disease and merit investigation in cattle.
PMCID: PMC4258407  PMID: 25398326
9.  Human-specific evolution of killer cell immunoglobulin-like receptor recognition of major histocompatibility complex class I molecules 
In placental mammals, natural killer (NK) cells are a population of lymphocytes that make unique contributions to immune defence and reproduction, functions essential for survival of individuals, populations and species. Modulating these functions are conserved and variable NK-cell receptors that recognize epitopes of major histocompatibility complex (MHC) class I molecules. In humans, for example, recognition of human leucocyte antigen (HLA)-E by the CD94:NKG2A receptor is conserved, whereas recognition of HLA-A, B and C by the killer cell immunoglobulin-like receptors (KIRs) is diversified. Competing demands of the immune and reproductive systems, and of T-cell and NK-cell immunity—combined with the segregation on different chromosomes of variable NK-cell receptors and their MHC class I ligands—drive an unusually rapid evolution that has resulted in unprecedented levels of species specificity, as first appreciated from comparison of mice and humans. Counterparts to human KIR are present only in simian primates. Observed in these species is the coevolution of KIR and the four MHC class I epitopes to which human KIR recognition is restricted. Unique to hominids is the emergence of the MHC-C locus as a supplier of specialized and superior ligands for KIR. This evolutionary trend is most highly elaborated in the chimpanzee. Unique to the human KIR locus are two groups of KIR haplotypes that are present in all human populations and subject to balancing selection. Group A KIR haplotypes resemble chimpanzee KIR haplotypes and are enriched for genes encoding KIR that bind HLA class I, whereas group B KIR haplotypes are enriched for genes encoding receptors with diminished capacity to bind HLA class I. Correlating with their balance in human populations, B haplotypes favour reproductive success, whereas A haplotypes favour successful immune defence. Evolution of the B KIR haplotypes is thus unique to the human species.
PMCID: PMC3267113  PMID: 22312047
natural killer cells; major histocompatibility complex; balancing selection
10.  Evolution and survival of marine carnivores did not require a diversity of KIR or Ly49 NK cell receptors1 
Ly49 lectin-like receptors and killer cell immunoglobulin-like receptors (KIR) are structurally unrelated cell-surface glycoproteins that evolved independently to function as diverse NK cell receptors for MHC class I molecules. Comparison of primates and various domesticated animals has shown that species have either a diverse Ly49 or KIR gene family, but not both. In four pinniped species of wild marine carnivore, three seals and one sea lion, we find that Ly49 and KIR are each represented by single, orthologous genes that exhibit little polymorphism and are transcribed to express cell-surface protein. Pinnipeds are therefore species in which neither Ly49 nor KIR are polygenic but retain the ancestral single-copy state. Whereas pinniped Ly49 has been subject to purifying selection, we find evidence for positive selection on KIR3DL during pinniped evolution. This selection, which focused on the D0 domain and the stem, points to the functionality of the KIR and likely led to the sea lion’s loss of D0. In contrast to the dynamic and rapid evolution of the KIR and Ly49 genes in other species, the pinniped KIR and Ly49 have been remarkably stable during the > 33 million years since the last common ancestor of seals and sea lions. These results demonstrate that long-term survival of placental mammal species need not require a diverse system of either Ly49 or KIR NK-cell receptors.
PMCID: PMC2754575  PMID: 19265140
Comparative Immunology; Comparative Evolution; Natural Killer Cells; Other Animals
11.  Natural Killer Cell Receptor Genes in the Family Equidae: Not only Ly49 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(5):e64736.
Natural killer (NK) cells have important functions in immunity. NK recognition in mammals can be mediated through killer cell immunoglobulin-like receptors (KIR) and/or killer cell lectin-like Ly49 receptors. Genes encoding highly variable NK cell receptors (NKR) represent rapidly evolving genomic regions. No single conservative model of NKR genes was observed in mammals. Single-copy low polymorphic NKR genes present in one mammalian species may expand into highly polymorphic multigene families in other species. In contrast to other non-rodent mammals, multiple Ly49-like genes appear to exist in the horse, while no functional KIR genes were observed in this species. In this study, Ly49 and KIR were sought and their evolution was characterized in the entire family Equidae. Genomic sequences retrieved showed the presence of at least five highly conserved polymorphic Ly49 genes in horses, asses and zebras. These findings confirmed that the expansion of Ly49 occurred in the entire family. Several KIR-like sequences were also identified in the genome of Equids. Besides a previously identified non-functional KIR-Immunoglobulin-like transcript fusion gene (KIR-ILTA) and two putative pseudogenes, a KIR3DL-like sequence was analyzed. In contrast to previous observations made in the horse, the KIR3DL sequence, genomic organization and mRNA expression suggest that all Equids might produce a functional KIR receptor protein molecule with a single non-mutated immune tyrosine-based inhibition motif (ITIM) domain. No evidence for positive selection in the KIR3DL gene was found. Phylogenetic analysis including rhinoceros and tapir genomic DNA and deduced amino acid KIR-related sequences showed differences between families and even between species within the order Perissodactyla. The results suggest that the order Perissodactyla and its family Equidae with expanded Ly49 genes and with a potentially functional KIR gene may represent an interesting model for evolutionary biology of NKR genes.
PMCID: PMC3665701  PMID: 23724088
12.  KIR Polymorphisms Modulate Peptide-Dependent Binding to an MHC Class I Ligand with a Bw6 Motif 
PLoS Pathogens  2011;7(3):e1001316.
Molecular interactions between killer immunoglobulin-like receptors (KIRs) and their MHC class I ligands play a central role in the regulation of natural killer (NK) cell responses to viral pathogens and tumors. Here we identify Mamu-A1*00201 (Mamu-A*02), a common MHC class I molecule in the rhesus macaque with a canonical Bw6 motif, as a ligand for Mamu-KIR3DL05. Mamu-A1*00201 tetramers folded with certain SIV peptides, but not others, directly stained primary NK cells and Jurkat cells expressing multiple allotypes of Mamu-KIR3DL05. Differences in binding avidity were associated with polymorphisms in the D0 and D1 domains of Mamu-KIR3DL05, whereas differences in peptide-selectivity mapped to the D1 domain. The reciprocal exchange of the third predicted MHC class I-contact loop of the D1 domain switched the specificity of two Mamu-KIR3DL05 allotypes for different Mamu-A1*00201-peptide complexes. Consistent with the function of an inhibitory KIR, incubation of lymphocytes from Mamu-KIR3DL05+ macaques with target cells expressing Mamu-A1*00201 suppressed the degranulation of tetramer-positive NK cells. These observations reveal a previously unappreciated role for D1 polymorphisms in determining the selectivity of KIRs for MHC class I-bound peptides, and identify the first functional KIR-MHC class I interaction in the rhesus macaque. The modulation of KIR-MHC class I interactions by viral peptides has important implications to pathogenesis, since it suggests that the immunodeficiency viruses, and potentially other types of viruses and tumors, may acquire changes in epitopes that increase the affinity of certain MHC class I ligands for inhibitory KIRs to prevent the activation of specific NK cell subsets.
Author Summary
NK cells provide an important first line of defense against infectious diseases and tumors by virtue of their ability to kill infected or malignant cells without prior sensitization. NK cell activation is regulated in part through interactions between KIRs expressed on the surface of NK cells and their MHC class I ligands on target cells. Here we identify Mamu-A1*00201 (Mamu-A*02), a common MHC class I molecule in the rhesus macaque, as a ligand for Mamu-KIR3DL05. We show that this interaction is peptide-dependent, since soluble Mamu-A1*00201 tetramers folded with certain SIV peptides, but not others, stained cells expressing Mamu-KIR3DL05. Differences in binding avidity were associated with polymorphisms in the D0 and D1 domains of Mamu-KIR3DL05, whereas differences in peptide-specificity mapped to the D1 domain. These observations reveal a previously unappreciated role for D1 polymorphisms in determining the selectivity of KIRs for MHC class I-bound peptides, and identify the first functional KIR-MHC class I interaction in the rhesus macaque. These observations suggest that SIV, and potentially also HIV-1, may acquire changes in epitopes that increase the avidity of MHC class I ligands for inhibitory KIRs as a mechanism of immune evasion to prevent the activation of certain NK cell subsets.
PMCID: PMC3053351  PMID: 21423672
13.  Significant Association of KIR2DL3-HLA-C1 Combination with Cerebral Malaria and Implications for Co-evolution of KIR and HLA 
PLoS Pathogens  2012;8(3):e1002565.
Cerebral malaria is a major, life-threatening complication of Plasmodium falciparum malaria, and has very high mortality rate. In murine malaria models, natural killer (NK) cell responses have been shown to play a crucial role in the pathogenesis of cerebral malaria. To investigate the role of NK cells in the developmental process of human cerebral malaria, we conducted a case-control study examining genotypes for killer immunoglobulin-like receptors (KIR) and their human leukocyte antigen (HLA) class I ligands in 477 malaria patients. We found that the combination of KIR2DL3 and its cognate HLA-C1 ligand was significantly associated with the development of cerebral malaria when compared with non-cerebral malaria (odds ratio 3.14, 95% confidence interval 1.52–6.48, P = 0.00079, corrected P = 0.02). In contrast, no other KIR-HLA pairs showed a significant association with cerebral malaria, suggesting that the NK cell repertoire shaped by the KIR2DL3-HLA-C1 interaction shows certain functional responses that facilitate development of cerebral malaria. Furthermore, the frequency of the KIR2DL3-HLA-C1 combination was found to be significantly lower in malaria high-endemic populations. These results suggest that natural selection has reduced the frequency of the KIR2DL3-HLA-C1 combination in malaria high-endemic populations because of the propensity of interaction between KIR2DL3 and C1 to favor development of cerebral malaria. Our findings provide one possible explanation for KIR-HLA co-evolution driven by a microbial pathogen, and its effect on the global distribution of malaria, KIR and HLA.
Author Summary
NK cells play an important role in early defense against pathogens. Killer immunoglobulin-like receptors (KIR) are a diverse family of activating and inhibitory receptors expressed on human NK cells. Some inhibitory KIRs recognize human leukocyte antigen (HLA) class I molecules as their ligands. The KIR loci exhibit presence or absence polymorphism, and thus, some individuals lack particular KIR-HLA receptor-ligand pairs, which affects their NK cell responses. We herein show that presence of both KIR2DL3 and its cognate HLA-C1 ligand in malaria patients was strongly associated with the development of human cerebral malaria. This result suggests that NK cells from the patients carrying both KIR2DL3 and HLA-C1 exhibit functional responses that facilitate development of cerebral malaria. In addition, the gene frequency of the KIR2DL3 and HLA-C1 combination was found to be significantly lower in populations with high-endemic malaria. These observations suggest that the combination of KIR2DL3 and HLA-C1 has decreased in malaria high-endemic populations under selection from cerebral malaria, a major life-threatening complication of Plasmodium falciparum malaria.
PMCID: PMC3297587  PMID: 22412373
14.  Reciprocal age related change in natural killer cell receptors for MHC class I 
Mechanisms of Ageing and Development  2005;126(6-7):722-731.
Natural killer (NK) cells are essential for healthy aging. NK cell activation is controlled by MHC class I-specific CD94/NKG2 receptors and killer immunoglobulin-like receptors (KIR). To assess NK cytotoxic function in isolation from MHC receptor engagement, we measured the ability of purified NK cells to kill mouse P815 target cells in the presence of anti-CD16 mAb. CD16-mediated cytotoxicity did not change with age, indicating that NK activation and cytotoxic granule release remained functional. We then investigated MHC class I receptor expression on NK cells. There was an age related decrease in CD94 and NKG2A expression and a reciprocal age related increase in KIR expression. NKG2A expression also declined with age on CD56+ T cells. CD94/NKG2A receptor function was proportional to expression, indicating that NK cell inhibitory signaling pathways were intact. NKG2A and KIR expression were complementary, suggesting that CD94/NKG2A function could substitute for inhibitory KIR function during polyclonal NK cell development in both young and elderly adults. The distinct roles of CD94/NKG2A and KIR receptors suggest that shifting MHC class I receptor expression patterns reflect age related changes in NK cell and CD56+ T cell turnover and function in vivo.
PMCID: PMC3394430  PMID: 15888327
Natural killer; Aging; Receptor; MHC class I; KIR; CD94; NKG2A; Cytotoxicity; NKT
15.  Genetic Control of Variegated KIR Gene Expression: Polymorphisms of the Bi-Directional KIR3DL1 Promoter Are Associated with Distinct Frequencies of Gene Expression 
PLoS Genetics  2008;4(11):e1000254.
Natural killer (NK) cells play an important role in the detection and elimination of tumors and virus-infected cells by the innate immune system. Human NK cells use cell surface receptors (KIR) for class I MHC to sense alterations of class I on potential target cells. Individual NK cells only express a subset of the available KIR genes, generating specialized NK cells that can specifically detect alteration of a particular class I molecule or group of molecules. The probabilistic behavior of human KIR bi-directional promoters is proposed to control the frequency of expression of these variegated genes. Analysis of a panel of donors has revealed the presence of several functionally relevant promoter polymorphisms clustered mainly in the inhibitory KIR family members, especially the KIR3DL1 alleles. We demonstrate for the first time that promoter polymorphisms affecting the strength of competing sense and antisense promoters largely explain the differential frequency of expression of KIR3DL1 allotypes on NK cells. KIR3DL1/S1 subtypes have distinct biological activity and coding region variants of the KIR3DL1/S1 gene strongly influence pathogenesis of HIV/AIDS and other human diseases. We propose that the polymorphisms shown in this study to regulate the frequency of KIR3DL1/S1 subtype expression on NK cells contribute substantially to the phenotypic variation across allotypes with respect to disease resistance.
Author Summary
Natural killer (NK) cells represent a specialized blood cell that plays an important role in the detection of virus-infected or cancer cells. NK cells recognize and kill diseased cells using receptors for self antigens (HLA) that are frequently altered on aberrant cells. The HLA receptors are known as Killer cell Immunoglobulin-like Receptors, or KIR. Humans possess from four to 14 KIR receptor genes in their genome, and individual NK cells express a subset of the available KIR genes, generating specialized NK cells that detect alterations in specific HLA proteins. The mechanism of this unusual selective gene activation was recently shown by our group to be controlled by a probabilistic bi-directional promoter switch that turns on a given gene at a pre-determined frequency in the NK cell population. The current study shows that the properties of the switches in terms of the relative activity of forward (on) versus reverse (off) promoter activity is directly correlated with the frequency at which a given gene is expressed within the NK cell population. These results have important implications for our understanding of the role of NK cells in viral resistance and bone marrow transplants.
PMCID: PMC2575236  PMID: 19008943
16.  Role of KIR3DS1 in human diseases 
The function of natural killer (NK) cells is controlled by several activating and inhibitory receptors, including the family of killer-immunoglobulin-like receptors (KIRs). One distinctive feature of KIRs is the extensive number of various haplotypes generated by the gene content within the KIR gene locus as well as by highly polymorphic members of the KIR gene family, namely KIR3DL1/S1. Within the KIR3DL1/S1 gene locus, KIR3DS1 represents a conserved allelic variant and displays other unique features in comparison to the highly polymorphic KIR3DL1 allele. KIR3DS1 is present in all human populations and belongs to the KIR haplotype group B. KIR3DS1 encodes for an activating receptor featuring the characteristic short cytoplasmic tail and a positively charged residue within the transmembrane domain, which allows recruitment of the ITAM-bearing adaptor molecule DAP12. Although HLA class I molecules are thought to represent natural KIR ligands, and HLA-Bw4 molecules serve as ligands for KIR3DL1, the ligand for KIR3DS1 still needs to be identified. Despite the lack of formal evidence for an interaction of KIR3DS1 with HLA-Bw4-I80 or any other HLA class I subtype to date, a growing number of associations between the presence of KIR3DS1 and the outcome of viral infections have been described. Especially, the potential protective role of KIR3DS1 in combination with HLA-Bw4-I80 in the context of HIV-1 infection has been studied intensively. In addition, a number of recent studies have associated the presence or absence of KIR3DS1 with the occurrence and outcome of some malignancies, autoimmune diseases, and graft-versus-host disease (GVHD). In this review, we summarize the present knowledge regarding the characteristics of KIRD3S1 and discuss its role in various human diseases.
PMCID: PMC3485674  PMID: 23125843
KIR3DS1; HLA; HIV-1; killer-immunoglobulin-like receptors; NK cell
17.  Linkage disequilibrium organization of the human KIR superlocus: implications for KIR data analyses 
Immunogenetics  2010;62(11-12):729-740.
An extensive family-based study of linkage disequilibrium (LD) in the killer cell immunoglobulin-like receptors (KIR) cluster was performed. We aimed to describe the LD structure in the KIR gene cluster using a sample of 418 founder haplotypes identified by segregation in a group of 106 families from Northern Ireland. The LD was studied at two levels of polymorphism: the structural level (presence or absence of KIR genes) and the allelic level (between alleles of KIR genes). LD was further assessed using the predictive value of one KIR polymorphism for another one in order to provide an interpretative framework for the LD effect in association studies. In line with previous research, distinct patterns of KIR genetic diversity within the genomic region centromeric to KIR2DL4 (excluding KIR2DL4) and within the telomeric region including KIR2DL4 were found. In a comprehensive PPV/NPV-based LD analysis within the KIR cluster, robust tag markers were found that can be used to identify which genes are concomitantly present or absent and to further identify groups of associated KIR alleles. Several extended KIR haplotypes in the study population were identified (KIR2DS2*POS–KIR2DL2*001–KIR2DL5B*002–KIR2DS3*00103–KIR2DL1*00401; KIR2DL4*011–KIR3DL1/S1*005–KIR2DS4*003–KIR3DL2*003; KIR2DL4*00802–KIR3DL1/S1*004–KIR2DS4*006–KIR3DL2*005; KIR2DL4*00801–KIR3DL1/S1*00101–KIR2DS4*003–KIR3DL2*001; KIR2DL4*00103–KIR3DL1/S1*008–KIR2DS4*003–KIR3DL2*009; KIR2DL4*00102–KIR3DL1/S1*01502/*002–KIR2DS4*00101–KIR3DL2*002; KIR2DL4*00501–KIR3DL1/S1*013–KIR2DL5A*001–KIR2DS5*002–KIR2DS1*002–KIR3DL2*007). The present study provides a rationale for analyzing associations of KIR polymorphisms by taking into account the complex LD structure of the KIR region.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1007/s00251-010-0478-4) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC2978314  PMID: 20878401
KIR; Linkage disequilibrium; Tagging; Association studies
18.  A Small, Variable and Irregular Killer Cell Ig-Like Receptor Locus Accompanies the Absence of MHC-C and MHC-G in Gibbons1 
The killer cell Ig-like receptors (KIR) of natural killer (NK) cells recognize major histocompatibility complex (MHC) class I ligands and function in placental reproduction and immune defense against pathogens. During the evolution of monkeys, great apes and humans, an ancestral KIR3DL gene expanded to become a diverse and rapidly evolving gene family of four KIR lineages. Characterising the KIR locus are three framework regions, defining two intervals of variable gene-content. By analysis of four KIR haplotypes from two species of gibbon, we find that the smaller apes do not conform to these rules. Although diverse and irregular in structure, the gibbon haplotypes are unusually small, containing only two to five functional genes. Comparison with the predicted ancestral hominoid KIR haplotype indicates that modern gibbon KIR haplotypes were formed by a series of deletion events, which created new hybrid genes as well as eliminating ancestral genes. Of the three framework regions, only KIR3DL3 (lineage V), defining the 5’ end of the KIR locus, is present and intact on all gibbon KIR haplotypes. KIR2DL4 (lineage I) defining the central framework region has been a major target for elimination or inactivation, correlating with the absence of its putative ligand, MHC-G, in gibbons. Similarly, the MHC-C driven expansion of lineage III KIR genes in great apes has not occurred in gibbons because they lack MHC-C. Our results indicate that the selective forces shaping the size and organisation of the gibbon KIR locus differed from those acting upon the KIR of other hominoid species.
PMCID: PMC3017126  PMID: 20026738
Comparative Immunology/Evolution; Reproductive Immunology; Natural Killer Cells; Cell Surface Molecules; MHC
19.  Human diversity of killer cell immunoglobulin-like receptors and disease 
The Korean Journal of Hematology  2011;46(4):216-228.
Natural Killer (NK) cells are the third population of lymphocyte in the mononuclear cell compartment that triggers first-line of defense against viral infection and tumor transformation. Historically, NK cells were thought of as components of innate immunity based on their intrinsic ability to spontaneously kill target cells independent of HLA antigen restriction. However, it is now clear that NK cells are quite sophisticated and use a highly specific and complex target cell recognition receptor system arbitrated via a multitude of inhibitory and activating receptors. Killer cell immunoglobulin-like receptors (KIR) are the key receptors of human NK cells development and function. To date, fourteen distinct KIRs have been identified: eight are inhibitory types, and six are activating types. The number and type of KIR genes present varies substantially between individuals. Inhibitory KIRs recognize distinct motifs of polymorphic HLA class I molecules. Upon engagement of their specific HLA class I ligands, inhibitory KIR dampen NK cell reactivity. In contrast, activating KIRs are believed to stimulate NK cell reactivity when they sense their ligands (unknown). KIR and HLA gene families map to different human chromosomes (19 and 6, respectively), and their independent segregation produces a wide diversity in the number and type of inherited KIR-HLA combinations, likely contributing to overall immune competency. Consistent with this hypothesis, certain combinations of KIR-HLA variants have been correlated with susceptibility to diseases as diverse as autoimmunity, viral infections, and cancer. This review summarizes our emerging understanding of KIR-HLA diversity in human health and disease.
PMCID: PMC3259513  PMID: 22259627
NK cells; Innate immunity; HLA; KIR; Polymorphism; Immune genes
20.  High-throughput killer cell immunoglobulin-like receptor genotyping by MALDI-TOF mass spectrometry with discovery of novel alleles 
Immunogenetics  2007;59(7):525-537.
The killer cell immunoglobulin-like receptors (KIR) interact with major histocompatibility complex (MHC) class I ligands to regulate the functions of natural killer cells and T cells. Like human leukocyte antigens class I, human KIR are highly variable and correlated with infection, autoimmunity, pregnancy syndromes, and transplantation outcome. Limiting the scope of KIR analysis is the low resolution, sensitivity, and speed of the established methods of KIR typing. In this study, we describe a first-generation single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP)-based method for typing the 17 human KIR genes and pseudogenes that uses analysis by matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization time-of-flight (MALDI-TOF) mass spectrometry. It is a high-throughput method that requires minute amounts of genomic DNA for discrimination of KIR genes with some allelic resolution. A study of 233 individuals shows that the results obtained by the SNP-based KIR/MALDI-TOF method are consistent with those obtained with the established sequence-specific oligonucleotide probe or sequence-specific polymerase chain reaction methods. The added sensitivity of the KIR/MALDI-TOF method allowed putative novel alleles of the KIR2DL1, KIR3DL1, KIR2DS5, and KIR2DL5 genes to be identified. Sequencing the KIR2DL5 variant proved it was a newly discovered allele, one that appears associated with Hispanic and Native American populations. This KIR/ MALDI-TOF method of KIR typing should facilitate population and disease-association studies that improve knowledge of the immunological functions of KIR–MHC class I interactions.
PMCID: PMC2881672  PMID: 17464504
KIR; HLA; MALDI-TOF; Genotyping; SNP
21.  Killer Immunoglobulin Receptor 3DL1-mediated recognition of Human Leukocyte Antigen B 
Nature  2011;479(7373):401-405.
Members of the Killer Immunoglobulin-Like Receptor (KIR) family, a large group of polymorphic receptors expressed on Natural Killer (NK) cells, recognise particular peptide-laden Human Leukocyte Antigen (pHLA) class I molecules and play a pivotal role in innate immune responses1. Allelic variation and extensive polymorphism within the three-domain KIR family (KIR3D, domains D0–D1–D2) affects pHLA binding specificity and is linked to the control of viral replication and the treatment outcome of certain haematological malignancies1–3. We describe the structure of the KIR3DL1 receptor, bound to HLA-B*5701 complexed with a self-peptide. KIR3DL1 clamped around the C-terminal end of the HLA-B*5701 antigen (Ag)-binding cleft, resulting in two discontinuous footprints on the pHLA. Firstly, the D0 domain, a distinguishing feature of the KIR3D family, extended towards β2-microglobulin and abutted a region of the HLA molecule that exhibited limited polymorphism, thereby acting as an “innate HLA sensor” domain. Secondly, while the D2-HLA-B*5701 interface exhibited a high degree of complementarity, the D1-pHLA-B*5701 contacts were sub-optimal and accommodated a degree of sequence variation both within the peptide and the polymorphic region of the HLA molecule. While the two-domain KIR (KIR2D) and KIR3DL1 docked similarly onto HLA-C4,5 and HLA-B respectively, the corresponding D1-mediated interactions differed markedly, thereby providing insight into the specificity of KIR3DL1 for discrete HLA-A and HLA-B allotypes. Collectively, in association with extensive mutagenesis studies at the KIR3DL1-pHLA B*5701 interface, we provide a framework for understanding the intricate interplay between peptide variability, KIR3D and HLA polymorphism in determining the specificity requirements of this essential innate interaction that is conserved across primate species.
PMCID: PMC3723390  PMID: 22020283
22.  Structure of the HCMV UL16-MICB Complex Elucidates Select Binding of a Viral Immunoevasin to Diverse NKG2D Ligands 
PLoS Pathogens  2010;6(1):e1000723.
The activating immunoreceptor NKG2D promotes elimination of infected or malignant cells by cytotoxic lymphocytes through engagement of stress-induced MHC class I-related ligands. The human cytomegalovirus (HCMV)-encoded immunoevasin UL16 subverts NKG2D-mediated immune responses by retaining a select group of diverse NKG2D ligands inside the cell. We report here the crystal structure of UL16 in complex with the NKG2D ligand MICB at 1.8 Å resolution, revealing the molecular basis for the promiscuous, but highly selective, binding of UL16 to unrelated NKG2D ligands. The immunoglobulin-like UL16 protein utilizes a three-stranded β-sheet to engage the α-helical surface of the MHC class I-like MICB platform domain. Intriguingly, residues at the center of this β-sheet mimic a central binding motif employed by the structurally unrelated C-type lectin-like NKG2D to facilitate engagement of diverse NKG2D ligands. Using surface plasmon resonance, we find that UL16 binds MICB, ULBP1, and ULBP2 with similar affinities that lie in the nanomolar range (12–66 nM). The ability of UL16 to bind its ligands depends critically on the presence of a glutamine (MICB) or closely related glutamate (ULBP1 and ULBP2) at position 169. An arginine residue at this position however, as found for example in MICA or ULBP3, would cause steric clashes with UL16 residues. The inability of UL16 to bind MICA and ULBP3 can therefore be attributed to single substitutions at key NKG2D ligand locations. This indicates that selective pressure exerted by viral immunoevasins such as UL16 contributed to the diversification of NKG2D ligands.
Author Summary
Cytotoxic lymphocytes such as natural killer (NK) cells or CD8 T cells have the ability to detect and destroy cells infected by viruses. They therefore are tools on which the human immune system critically depends in order to control viral infections. To avoid discovery by cytotoxic lymphocytes and to allow for longtime persistence in the human host, the human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) has developed a multitude of immune evasive strategies that are mediated by so-called immunoevasins. We present here a structure-function analysis of one of the best-known HCMV immunevasins, UL16, and its interaction with a cellular ligand for NK cells, MICB. The normal function of MICB is to activate NK cells by engaging the most well-known NK receptor, NKG2D. Our results provide molecular evidence for the strategy used by UL16 to disable NK cell activation. In a rare example of structural mimicry that has likely arisen through convergent evolution, UL16 mimics a central binding motif of the structurally unrelated NKG2D protein. This allows UL16 to engage and disable several diverse NKG2D ligands, while others have apparently evolved to escape recognition by UL16 through alteration of key residues at strategic locations.
PMCID: PMC2797645  PMID: 20090832
23.  HLA-Cw*0102-Restricted HIV-1 p24 Epitope Variants Can Modulate the Binding of the Inhibitory KIR2DL2 Receptor and Primary NK Cell Function 
PLoS Pathogens  2012;8(7):e1002805.
Accumulating evidence suggests an important role for Natural Killer (NK) cells in the control of HIV-1 infection. Recently, it was shown that NK cell-mediated immune pressure can result in the selection of HIV-1 escape mutations. A potential mechanism for this NK cell escape is the selection of HLA class I-presented HIV-1 epitopes that allow for the engagement of inhibitory killer cell immunoglobulin-like receptors (KIRs), notably KIR2DL2. We therefore investigated the consequences of sequence variations within HLA-Cw*0102-restricted epitopes on the interaction of HLA-Cw*0102 with KIR2DL2 using a large panel of overlapping HIV-1 p24 Gag peptides. 217 decameric peptides spanning the HIV-1 p24 Gag consensus sequence were screened for HLA-Cw*0102 stabilization by co-incubation with Cw*0102(+)/TAP-deficient T2 cells using a flow cytometry-based assay. KIR2DL2 binding was assessed using a KIR2DL2-IgG fusion construct. Function of KIR2DL2(+) NK cells was flow cytometrically analyzed by measuring degranulation of primary NK cells after co-incubation with peptide-pulsed T2 cells. We identified 11 peptides stabilizing HLA-Cw*0102 on the surface of T2 cells. However, only one peptide (p24 Gag209–218 AAEWDRLHPV) allowed for binding of KIR2DL2. Notably, functional analysis showed a significant inhibition of KIR2DL2(+) NK cells in the presence of p24 Gag209–218-pulsed T2 cells, while degranulation of KIR2DL2(−) NK cells was not affected. Moreover, we demonstrated that sequence variations in position 7 of this epitope observed frequently in naturally occurring HIV-1 sequences can modulate binding to KIR2DL2. Our results show that the majority of HIV-1 p24 Gag peptides stabilizing HLA-Cw*0102 do not allow for binding of KIR2DL2, but identified one HLA-Cw*0102-presented peptide (p24 Gag209–218) that was recognized by the inhibitory NK cell receptor KIR2DL2 leading to functional inhibition of KIR2DL2-expressing NK cells. Engagement of KIR2DL2 might protect virus-infected cells from NK cell-mediated lysis and selections of sequence polymorphisms that increase avidity to KIR2DL2 might provide a mechanism for HIV-1 to escape NK cell-mediated immune pressure.
Author Summary
Distinguishing between “self” and “non-self” is one of the fundamental principles of immune responses against viral infections. Upon viral infection the peptide repertoire presented by HLA class I molecules changes, potentially providing signals that result in recognition and elimination of the infected cell by the host immune system. Viruses, in particular HIV-1, developed multiple strategies to escape T cell and Natural Killer (NK) cell-mediated immune pressure, including sequence variations that lead to the engagement of inhibitory receptors expressed on T cells and NK cells. The systematic approach used in this study led to the identification of an HLA-presented HIV-1 peptide that allows engagement of the inhibitory NK cell receptor KIR2DL2 and inhibition of NK function. Our findings help to elucidate the complex interaction between KIR molecules, such as KIR2DL2, and HLA/peptide complexes and provide a foundation for further studies investigating the role of sequence variations within HIV-1 epitopes on HLA/KIR interactions, and the ability of viruses to evade NK cell-mediated recognition.
PMCID: PMC3395618  PMID: 22807681
24.  Structural Basis for Recognition of Cellular and Viral Ligands by NK Cell Receptors 
Natural killer (NK) cells are key components of innate immune responses to tumors and viral infections. NK cell function is regulated by NK cell receptors that recognize both cellular and viral ligands, including major histocompatibility complex (MHC), MHC-like, and non-MHC molecules. These receptors include Ly49s, killer immunoglobulin-like receptors, leukocyte immunoglobulin-like receptors, and NKG2A/CD94, which bind MHC class I (MHC-I) molecules, and NKG2D, which binds MHC-I paralogs such as the stress-induced proteins MICA and ULBP. In addition, certain viruses have evolved MHC-like immunoevasins, such as UL18 and m157 from cytomegalovirus, that act as decoy ligands for NK receptors. A growing number of NK receptor–ligand interaction pairs involving non-MHC molecules have also been identified, including NKp30–B7-H6, killer cell lectin-like receptor G1–cadherin, and NKp80–AICL. Here, we describe crystal structures determined to date of NK cell receptors bound to MHC, MHC-related, and non-MHC ligands. Collectively, these structures reveal the diverse solutions that NK receptors have developed to recognize these molecules, thereby enabling the regulation of NK cytolytic activity by both host and viral ligands.
PMCID: PMC3972465  PMID: 24723923
NK receptor; MHC; virus; KIR; Ly49; NKG2; structure
25.  Copy Number Variation of KIR Genes Influences HIV-1 Control 
PLoS Biology  2011;9(11):e1001208.
The authors that the number of activating and inhibitory KIR genes varies between individuals and plays a role in the regulation of immune mechanisms that determine HIV-1 control.
A genome-wide screen for large structural variants showed that a copy number variant (CNV) in the region encoding killer cell immunoglobulin-like receptors (KIR) associates with HIV-1 control as measured by plasma viral load at set point in individuals of European ancestry. This CNV encompasses the KIR3DL1-KIR3DS1 locus, encoding receptors that interact with specific HLA-Bw4 molecules to regulate the activation of lymphocyte subsets including natural killer (NK) cells. We quantified the number of copies of KIR3DS1 and KIR3DL1 in a large HIV-1 positive cohort, and showed that an increase in KIR3DS1 count associates with a lower viral set point if its putative ligand is present (p = 0.00028), as does an increase in KIR3DL1 count in the presence of KIR3DS1 and appropriate ligands for both receptors (p = 0.0015). We further provide functional data that demonstrate that NK cells from individuals with multiple copies of KIR3DL1, in the presence of KIR3DS1 and the appropriate ligands, inhibit HIV-1 replication more robustly, and associated with a significant expansion in the frequency of KIR3DS1+, but not KIR3DL1+, NK cells in their peripheral blood. Our results suggest that the relative amounts of these activating and inhibitory KIR play a role in regulating the peripheral expansion of highly antiviral KIR3DS1+ NK cells, which may determine differences in HIV-1 control following infection.
Author Summary
There is marked intrinsic variation in the extent to which individuals are able to control HIV-1. We have identified a genetic copy number variable region (CNV) in humans that plays a significant role in the control of HIV-1. This CNV is located in the genomic region that encodes the killer cell immunoglobulin-like receptors (KIRs) and specifically affects the KIR3DS1 and KIR3DL1 genes, encoding two KIRs that interact with human leukocyte antigen B (HLA-B) ligands. KIRs are expressed on the surface of natural killer (NK) cells, which serve as important players in the innate immune response, and are involved in the recognition of infected and malignant cells through a loss or alteration in “self” ligands. We use both genetic association and functional evidence to show a strong interaction between KIR3DL1 and KIR3DS1, indicating that increasing gene counts for KIR3DL1 confer increasing levels of protection against HIV-1, but only in the presence of at least one copy of KIR3DS1. This effect was associated with a dramatic increase in the abundance of KIR3DS1+ NK cells in the peripheral blood, and strongly associated with a more robust capacity of peripheral NK cells to suppress HIV-1 replication in vitro. This work provides one of the few examples of an association between a relatively common CNV and a human complex trait.
PMCID: PMC3226550  PMID: 22140359

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