IgA is the predominant immunoglobulin isotype in mucosal tissues and external secretions, playing important roles both in defense against pathogens and in maintenance of commensal microbiota. Considering the complexity of its interactions with the surrounding environment, IgA is a likely target for diversifying or positive selection. To investigate this possibility, the action of natural selection on IgA was examined in depth with six different methods: CODEML from the PAML package and the SLAC, FEL, REL, MEME and FUBAR methods implemented in the Datamonkey webserver. In considering just primate IgA, these analyses show that diversifying selection targeted five positions of the Cα1 and Cα2 domains of IgA. Extending the analysis to include other mammals identified 18 positively selected sites: ten in Cα1, five in Cα2 and three in Cα3. All but one of these positions display variation in polarity and charge. Their structural locations suggest they indirectly influence the conformation of sites on IgA that are critical for interaction with host IgA receptors and also with proteins produced by mucosal pathogens that prevent their elimination by IgA-mediated effector mechanisms. Demonstrating the plasticity of IgA in the evolution of different groups of mammals, only two of the eighteen selected positions in all mammals are included in the five selected positions in primates. That IgA residues subject to positive selection impact sites targeted both by host receptors and subversive pathogen ligands highlights the evolutionary arms race playing out between mammals and pathogens, and further emphasizes the importance of IgA in protection against mucosal pathogens.
Through recognition of HLA class I, killer cell immunoglobulin-like receptors (KIR) modulate NK cell functions in human immunity and reproduction. Although a minority of HLA-A and –B allotypes are KIR ligands, HLA-C allotypes dominate this regulation, because they all carry either the C1 epitope recognized by KIR2DL2/3 or the C2 epitope recognized by KIR2DL1. The C1 epitope and C1-specific KIR evolved first, followed several million years later by the C2 epitope and C2-specific KIR. Strong, varying selection pressure on NK cell functions drove the diversification and divergence of hominid KIR, with six positions in the HLA class I binding site of KIR being targets for positive selection. Introducing each naturally occurring residue at these positions into KIR2DL1 and KIR2DL3, produced 38 point mutants that were tested for binding to 95 HLA- A, -B and –C allotypes. Modulating specificity for HLA-C is position 44, whereas positions 71 and 131 control cross reactivity with HLA-A*11:02. Dominating avidity modulation is position 70, with lesser contributions from positions 68 and 182. KIR2DL3 has lower avidity and broader specificity than KIR2DL1. Mutation can increase the avidity and change the specificity of KIR2DL3, whereas KIR2DL1 specificity was resistant to mutation and its avidity could only be lowered. The contrasting inflexibility of KIR2DL1 and adaptability of KIR2DL3 fits with C2-specific KIR having evolved from C1-specific KIR, and not vice versa. Substitutions restricted to activating KIR all reduced the avidity of KIR2DL1 and KIR2DL3, further evidence that activating KIR function often becomes subject to selective attenuation.
Natural Killer Cells; MHC; Epitopes; Comparative Immunology/Evolution
Human killer cell immunoglobulin-like receptors (KIR) recognize A3/11, Bw4, C1 and C2 epitopes carried by mutually exclusive subsets of HLA-A, B, and C allotypes. Chimpanzee and orangutan have counterparts to HLA-A, B, and C, and KIR that recognize the A3/11, Bw4, C1 and C2 epitopes, either individually or in combination. Because rhesus macaque has counterparts of HLA-A and B, but not HLA-C, we expected that rhesus KIR would better recognize HLA-A and B, than HLA-C. Comparison of the interactions of nine rhesus KIR3D with 95 HLA isoforms, showed the KIR have broad specificity for HLA-A, B, and C, but vary in avidity. Considering both the strength and breadth of reaction, HLA-C was the major target for rhesus KIR, followed by HLA-B, then HLA-A. Strong reactions with HLA-A were restricted to the minority of allotypes carrying the Bw4 epitope, whereas strong reactions with HLA-B partitioned between allotypes having and lacking Bw4. Contrasting to HLA-A and B, every HLA-C allotype bound to the nine rhesus KIR. Sequence comparison of high- and low-binding HLA allotypes revealed the importance of polymorphism in the helix of the α1 domain and the peptide-binding pockets. At peptide position 9, nonpolar residues favor binding to rhesus KIR, whereas charged residues do not. Contrary to expectation, rhesus KIR bind more effectively to HLA-C, than to HLA-A and B. This property is consistent with MHC-C having evolved in hominids to be a generally superior ligand for KIR than MHC-A and MHC-B.
KIR receptors; MHC; rhesus macaque; NK cells
Natural killer (NK) cells are a population of lymphocytes that function in both immune defense and reproduction. Diversifying NK cell phenotype and function are interactions between NK cell receptors and major histocompatibility complex (MHC) class I ligands. As a consequence of strong and variable selection these ligand-receptor systems are polymorphic, rapidly evolving, and considerably species-specific. Counterparts to the human system of HLA class I ligands and killer cell immunoglobulin-like receptors (KIR) are present only in apes and Old World monkeys. HLA-C, the dominant ligand for human KIR and the only polymorphic HLA class I expressed by trophoblast, is further restricted to humans and great apes. Even then, the human system appears qualitatively different from that of chimpanzees, in that it has evolved a genetic balance between particular groups of receptors and ligands that favor reproductive success and other groups of receptors and ligands that have been correlated with disordered placentation. Human populations that have survived successive episodes of epidemic disease and population bottlenecks maintain a breadth of diversity for KIR and HLA class I, implying that loss of such diversity disfavors long-term survival of a human population.
HLA; natural killer cells; balancing selection; evolution; immunity; reproduction
Whole genome comparisons identified introgression from archaic to modern humans. Our analysis of highly polymorphic HLA class I, vital immune system components subject to strong balancing selection, shows how modern humans acquired the HLA-B*73 allele in west Asia through admixture with archaic humans called Denisovans, a likely sister group to the Neandertals. Virtual genotyping of Denisovan and Neandertal genomes identified archaic HLA haplotypes carrying functionally distinctive alleles that have introgressed into modern Eurasian and Oceanian populations. These alleles, of which several encode unique or strong ligands for natural killer cell receptors, now represent more than half the HLA alleles of modern Eurasians and also appear to have been later introduced into Africans. Thus, adaptive introgression of archaic alleles has significantly shaped modern human immune systems.
After decades of mouse and human research, we now know that NK cells have unique properties including memory. Although initially described as MHC unrestricted killers, NK cells have several families of receptors that directly recognize MHC including Ly49 receptors in the mouse and killer immunoglobulin-like receptors (KIR) in humans. The strength of this signal is determined by polymorphisms in NK cell inhibitory receptor genes and their MHC ligands inherited on different chromosomes. Inhibitory receptors protect “self” expressing normal tissue from being killed by NK cells and protecting against autoimmunity. Therefore, for NK cells to kill and produce cytokines they must encounter activating receptor ligands in the context of “missing self” that occurs with some viral infections and malignant transformation. The second property of inhibitory receptors is to educate or license NK cells to acquire function. This is best demonstrated in the mouse and in humans by enhanced function on self inhibitory receptor expressing NK cells when in a host expressing cognate ligate. In contrast, NK cells without inhibitory receptors or with non-self inhibitory receptors are relatively hyporesponsive. The basic biology of NK cells in response to cytokines, education, and viruses will translate into strategies to manipulate NK cells for therapeutic purposes.
It is 14 years since the IMGT/HLA database was first released, providing the HLA community with a searchable repository of highly curated HLA sequences. The HLA complex is located within the 6p21.3 region of human chromosome 6 and contains more than 220 genes of diverse function. Of these, 21 genes encode proteins of the immune system that are highly polymorphic. The naming of these HLA genes and alleles and their quality control is the responsibility of the World Health Organization Nomenclature Committee for Factors of the HLA System. Through the work of the HLA Informatics Group and in collaboration with the European Bioinformatics Institute, we are able to provide public access to these data through the website http://www.ebi.ac.uk/imgt/hla/. Regular updates to the website ensure that new and confirmatory sequences are dispersed to the HLA community and the wider research and clinical communities. This article describes the latest updates and additional tools added to the IMGT/HLA project.
Alternative lysine and methionine residues at position 44 in the D1 domain determine the specificities of human lineage III killer cell immunoglobulin-like receptors (KIR) for the C1 and C2 epitopes of HLA-C. KIR having glutamate 44 are also present in orangutans (Popy2DLB) and chimpanzees (Pt-2DL9) but notably absent from humans. Popy2DLB exhibits broad specificity for both the C1 and C2 epitopes, whereas Pt-2DL9 has narrow specificity for C2. Mutation of phenylalanine 45 in Popy2DLB to the cysteine residue present in Pt-2DL9 was sufficient to narrow the Popy2DLB specificity to be like that of Pt-2DL9. In contrast, replacement of cysteine 45 in Pt-2DL9 by phenylalanine had no effect on its C2 specificity, but reduced the avidity. In a similar manner, replacement of phenylalanine 45 with cysteine in Popy2DLA, which has lysine 44 and recognizes C1, maintained this specificity while reducing avidity. Position 45 is exceptionally variable, exhibiting twelve residues that distinguish KIR of different lineages and species. Our study demonstrates the potential for variation at position 45 to modulate KIR avidity and specificity for HLA-C. The various effects of position 45 mutation are consistent with a model in which a Popy2DLB-like receptor, having glutamate 44 and broad specificity for C1 and C2, facilitated the evolution of the C2 epitope from the C1 epitope and C2-specific KIR from C1-specific KIR. With the acquisition of C2 and C2-specific receptors, the selection against this broadly specific receptor led to its loss from the human line and narrowing of its specificity on the chimpanzee line.
KIR receptors; MHC; Non-human primates; Evolution
Variegated expression of variable NK cell receptors for polymorphic MHC class I broadens the range of an individual’s NK cell response, and the capacity for populations and species to survive disease epidemics and population bottlenecks. On evolutionary time-scales this component of immunity is exceptionally dynamic, unstable and short-lived, being dependent upon co-evolution of ligands and receptors subject to varying, competing selection pressures. Consequently these systems of variable NK cell receptors are largely species-specific and have recruited different classes of glycoprotein, even within the primate order of mammals. Such disparity helps explain substantial differences in NK cell biology between humans and animal models, for which the population genetics is largely ignored. KIR3DL1/S1, that recognizes the Bw4 epitope of HLA-A and –B and is the most extensively studied of the variable NK cell receptors, exemplifies how variation in all possible parameters of function is recruited to diversify the human NK cell response.
Natural Killer Cells; MHC; Comparative Immunology/Evolution; Antigens/Peptides/Epitopes
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.
natural killer cells; major histocompatibility complex; balancing selection
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.
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.
Patr-AL is an expressed, non-polymorphic MHC class I gene carried by ∼50% of chimpanzee MHC haplotypes. Comparing Patr-AL+ and Patr-AL- haplotypes showed Patr-AL defines a unique 125kb genomic block flanked by blocks containing classical Patr-A and pseudogene Patr-H. Orthologous to Patr-AL are polymorphic orangutan Popy-A and the 5′ part of human pseudogene HLA-Y, carried by ∼10% of HLA haplotypes. Thus the AL gene alternatively evolved in these closely related species to become classical, non-classical and non-functional. Although differing by 30 amino acid substitutions in the peptide-binding α1 and α2 domains, Patr-AL and HLA-A*0201 bind overlapping repertoires of peptides; the overlap being comparable to that between the A*0201 and A*0207 subtypes differing by one substitution. Patr-AL thus has the A02 supertypic peptide-binding specificity. Patr-AL and HLA-A*0201 have similar three-dimensional structures, binding peptides in similar conformation. Although comparable in size and shape, the B and F specificity pockets of Patr-AL and HLA-A*0201 differ in both their constituent residues and contacts with peptide anchors. Uniquely shared by Patr-AL, HLA-A*0201, and other members of the A02 supertype are the absence of serine at position 9 in the B pocket and the presence of tyrosine at position 116 in the F pocket. Distinguishing Patr-AL from HLA-A*02 is an unusually electropositive upper face on the α2 helix. Stimulating PBMC from Patr-AL- chimpanzees with B cells expressing Patr-AL, produced potent alloreactive CD8 T cells with specificity for Patr-AL and no crossreactivity toward other MHC class I, including HLA-A*02. PBMC from Patr-AL+ chimpanzees are tolerant of Patr-AL.
Variable interaction between the Bw4 epitope of HLA-B and the polymorphic KIR3DL1/S1 system of inhibitory and activating NK cell receptors diversifies the development, repertoire formation and response of human NK cells. KIR3DL1*004, a common KIR3DL1 allotype, in combination with Bw4+, HLA-B slows progression of HIV infection to AIDS. Analysis here of KIR3DL1*004 membrane traffic in NK cells shows this allotype is largely misfolded but stably retained in the endoplasmic reticulum, where it binds to the chaperone calreticulin and does not induce the unfolded protein response. A small fraction of KIR3DL1*004 folds correctly and leaves the endoplasmic reticulum to be expressed on the surface of primary NK and transfected NKL cells, in a form that can be triggered to inhibit NK cell activation and secretion of interferon-γ. Consistent with this small proportion of correctly-folded molecules, trace amounts of MHC Class I co-immunoprecipitated with KIR3DL1*004. There was no indication of any extensive intracellular interaction between unfolded KIR3DL1*004 and cognate Bw4+ HLA-B. A similarly limited interaction of Bw4 with KIR3DL1*002, when both were expressed by the same cell, was observed despite the efficient folding of KIR3DL1*002 and its abundance on the NK cell surface. Several positions of polymorphism modulate KIR3DL1 abundance at the cell surface, differences that do not necessarily correlate with the potency of allotype function. In this context our results suggest the possibility that the effect of Bw4+ HLA-B and KIR3DL1*004 in slowing progression to AIDS is mediated by interaction of Bw4+ HLA-B with the small fraction of cell surface KIR3DL1*004.
Interactions between killer immunoglobulin-like receptors (KIRs) and their HLA-A, -B, and -C ligands diversify the functions of human natural killer cells. Consequently, combinations of KIR and HLA genotypes affect resistance to infection and autoimmunity, success of reproduction and outcome of hematopoietic cell transplantation. HLA-C, with its C1 and C2 epitopes, evolved in hominids to be specialized KIR ligands. The system’s foundation was the C1 epitope, with C2 a later addition, by several million years. The human inhibitory receptor for C1 is encoded by KIR2DL2/3, a gene having two divergent allelic lineages: KIR2DL2 is a B KIR haplotype component and KIR2DL3 an A KIR haplotype component. Although KIR2DL2 and KIR2DL3 exhibit quantitative differences in specificity and avidity for HLA-C, they qualitatively differ in their genetics, functional effect, and clinical influence. This is due to linkage disequilibrium between KIR2DL2 and KIR2DS2, a closely related activating receptor that was selected for lost recognition of HLA-C.
killer cells; natural; killer cell immunoglobulin-like receptor; receptor–ligand interaction; disease association; structure–function relationship
In primates and cattle two ancient killer-cell immunoglobulin-like receptor (KIR) lineages independently evolved to become diverse NK cell receptors. In mice, KIR genes were sidelined to the X chromosome, a possible consequence of pathogen-mediated selection on the receptor for IgA-Fc. In humans, KIR uniquely form two omnipresent haplotype groups (A and B), postulated to play complementary and necessary roles in immune defense and reproduction. The basis of KIR3DL1/S1 polymorphism is three ancient lineages maintained by long-term balancing selection and present in all human populations. Conserved and variable NK cell receptors produce structurally diverse NK cell receptor repertoires within a defined range of missing-self response.
Modulation of human NK cell function by killer cell immunoglobulin-like receptors (KIR) and MHC class I is dominated by the bipartite interactions of inhibitory lineage III KIR with the C1 and C2 epitopes of HLA-C. In comparison, the ligand specificities and functional contributions of the activating lineage III KIR remain poorly understood. Using a robust, sensitive assay of KIR binding and a representative panel of 95 HLA class I targets, we show that KIR2DS1 binds C2 with ∼50% the avidity of KIR2DL1, whereas KIR2DS2, 2DS3 and 2DS5 have no detectable avidity for C1, C2 or any other HLA class I epitope. In contrast, the chimpanzee has activating C1 and C2-specific lineage III KIR with strong avidity, comparable to those of their paired inhibitory receptors. One variant of chimpanzee Pt-KIR3DS2, the activating C2-specific receptor, has the same avidity for C2 as inhibitory Pt-KIR3DL4, and a second variant has ∼73% the avidity. Chimpanzee Pt-KIR3DS6, the activating C1-specific receptor, has avidity for C1 that is ∼70% that of inhibitory Pt-KIR2DL6. In both humans and chimpanzees we observe an evolutionary trend toward reducing the avidity of the activating C1- and C2-specific receptors through selective acquisition of attenuating substitutions. However, the extent of attenuation has been extreme in humans as exemplified by KIR2DS2, an activating C1-specific receptor that has lost all detectable avidity for HLA class I. Supporting such elimination of activating C1-specific receptors as a uniquely human phenomenon is the presence of a high avidity activating C1-specific receptor (Gogo-KIR2DSa) in gorilla.
Natural Killer Cells; Cell Surface Molecules; Comparative Immunology/ Evolution; MHC
Interactions between HLA class I and killer cell immunoglobulin-like receptors (KIR) diversify human NK cell responses. Dominant KIR ligands are the C1 and C2 epitopes of MHC-C, a young locus restricted to humans and great apes. C1 and C1-specific KIR evolved first, being present in orangutan and functionally like their human counterparts. Orangutans lack C2 and C2-specific KIR, but have a unique C1+C2 specific KIR that binds equally to C1 and C2. Such a receptor was likely the mechanism by which C2-KIR interaction evolved from C1-KIR while avoiding a non-functional intermediate: either orphan receptor or ligand. Orangutan inhibitory MHC-C reactive KIR pair with activating receptors of identical avidity and specificity, contrasting with the selective attenuation of human activating KIR. The orangutan C1-specific KIR reacts or cross-reacts with all four polymorphic epitopes (C1, C2, Bw4, and A3/11) recognized by human KIR, revealing their structural commonality. Saturation mutagenesis at specificity-determining position 44, demonstrates that KIR are inherently restricted to binding just these four epitopes, either individually or in combination. This restriction frees the majority of HLA-A and –B variants to be dedicated T-cell receptor ligands, not subject to conflicting pressures from the NK cell and T cell arms of the immune response.
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.
Non-human primates; NK cells; KIR; MHC; innate immunity
Human killer immunoglobulin-like receptors (KIRs) play a critical role in governing the immune response to neoplastic and infectious disease. Rhesus macaques serve as important animal models for many human diseases in which KIRs are implicated; however, the study of KIR activity in this model is hindered by incomplete characterization of KIR genetics.
Here we present a characterization of KIR genetics in rhesus macaques (Macaca mulatta). We conducted a survey of KIRs in this species, identifying 47 novel full-length KIR sequences. Using this expanded sequence library to build upon previous work, we present evidence supporting the existence of 22 Mamu-KIR genes, providing a framework within which to describe macaque KIRs. We also developed a novel pyrosequencing-based technique for KIR genotyping. This method provides both comprehensive KIR genotype and frequency estimates of transcript level, with implications for the study of KIRs in all species.
The results of this study significantly improve our understanding of macaque KIR genetic organization and diversity, with implications for the study of many human diseases that use macaques as a model. The ability to obtain comprehensive KIR genotypes is of basic importance for the study of KIRs, and can easily be adapted to other species. Together these findings both advance the field of macaque KIRs and facilitate future research into the role of KIRs in human disease.
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.
Comparative Immunology/Evolution; Reproductive Immunology; Natural Killer Cells; Cell Surface Molecules; MHC
During embryo implantation and initiation of pregnancy, uterine NK (uNK) cells engage invasive fetal trophoblasts to remodel vessels that conduct blood to the placenta. This partnership, involving uNK cell receptors that recognize HLA-C ligands on trophoblasts, varies the course of human pregnancy because the genes for both receptors and ligands are extraordinarily diverse. Several pregnancy disorders are attributed to insufficient trophoblast invasion and the limitation it imposes on human reproduction. Previously, a particular combination of fetal HLA-C and maternal inhibitory uNK cell receptor was associated with predisposition for preeclampsia. In this issue of the JCI, Hiby and colleagues extend this correlation to recurrent miscarriage and fetal growth restriction, revealing the common mechanism underlying these common pregnancy syndromes. Equally important, they show that mothers with an activating receptor of similar specificity to the inhibitory receptor are less likely to suffer disordered pregnancy.
The fast evolving human KIR gene family encodes variable lymphocyte receptors specific for polymorphic HLA class I determinants. Nucleotide sequences for 24 representative human KIR haplotypes were determined. With three previously defined haplotypes, this gave a set of 12 group A and 15 group B haplotypes for assessment of KIR variation. The seven gene-content haplotypes are all combinations of four centromeric and two telomeric motifs. 2DL5, 2DS5 and 2DS3 can be present in centromeric and telomeric locations. With one exception, haplotypes having identical gene content differed in their combinations of KIR alleles. Sequence diversity varied between haplotype groups and between centromeric and telomeric halves of the KIR locus. The most variable A haplotype genes are in the telomeric half, whereas the most variable genes characterizing B haplotypes are in the centromeric half. Of the highly polymorphic genes, only the 3DL3 framework gene exhibits a similar diversity when carried by A and B haplotypes. Phylogenetic analysis and divergence time estimates, point to the centromeric gene-content motifs that distinguish A and B haplotypes having emerged ∼6 million years ago, contemporaneously with the separation of human and chimpanzee ancestors. In contrast, the telomeric motifs that distinguish A and B haplotypes emerged more recently, ∼1.7 million years ago, before the emergence of Homo sapiens. Thus the centromeric and telomeric motifs that typify A and B haplotypes have likely been present throughout human evolution. The results suggest the common ancestor of A and B haplotypes combined a B-like centromeric region with an A-like telomeric region.
It is 12 years since the IMGT/HLA database was first released, providing the HLA community with a searchable repository of highly curated HLA sequences. The HLA complex is located within the 6p21.3 region of human chromosome 6 and contains more than 220 genes of diverse function. Many of the genes encode proteins of the immune system and are highly polymorphic. The naming of these HLA genes and alleles and their quality control is the responsibility of the WHO Nomenclature Committee for Factors of the HLA System. Through the work of the HLA Informatics Group and in collaboration with the European Bioinformatics Institute, we are able to provide public access to this data through the web site http://www.ebi.ac.uk/imgt/hla/. Regular updates to the web site ensure that new and confirmatory sequences are dispersed to the HLA community, and the wider research and clinical communities.
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.
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.