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J Immunol. 2000 May 15;164(10):5019-22.

Cutting edge: the human cytomegalovirus UL40 gene product contains a ligand for HLA-E and prevents NK cell-mediated lysis.

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  • 1Institut für Anthropologie und Humangenetik, Munich, Germany.


Human CMV has evolved multiple strategies to interfere with immune recognition of the host. A variety of mechanisms target Ag presentation by MHC class I molecules resulting in a reduced class I cell-surface expression. This down-regulation of class I molecules is expected to trigger NK cytotoxicity, which would have to be counteracted by the virus to establish long-term infection. Here we describe that the human CMV open reading frame UL40 encodes a canonical ligand for HLA-E, identical with the HLA-Cw03 signal sequence-derived peptide. Expression of UL40 in HLA-E-positive target cells conferred resistance to NK cell lysis via the CD94/NKG2A receptor. Generation of the UL40-derived HLA-E ligand was also observed in TAP-deficient cells. The presence of a functional TAP-independent HLA-E ligand in the UL40 signal sequence implicates this viral gene as an important negative regulator of NK activity.

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