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J Immunol. 2006 Nov 15;177(10):6588-92.

Cutting edge: resistance to HIV-1 infection among African female sex workers is associated with inhibitory KIR in the absence of their HLA ligands.

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  • 1Department of Microbiology, Institute of Tropical Medicine, Antwerp, Belgium.


NK cells are regulated in part by killer Ig-like receptors (KIR) that interact with HLA molecules on potential target cells. KIR and HLA loci are highly polymorphic and certain KIR/HLA combinations were found to protect against HIV disease progression. We show in this study that KIR/HLA interactions also influence resistance to HIV transmission. HIV-exposed but seronegative female sex workers in Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire, frequently possessed inhibitory KIR genes in the absence of their cognate HLA genes: KIR2DL2/KIR2DL3 heterozygosity in the absence of HLA-C1 and KIR3DL1 homozygosity in the absence of HLA-Bw4. HIV-seropositive female sex workers were characterized by corresponding inhibitory KIR/HLA pairings: KIR2DL3 homozygosity together with HLA-C1 and a trend toward KIR3DL1/HLA-Bw4 homozygosity. Absence of ligands for inhibitory KIR could lower the threshold for NK cell activation. In addition, exposed seronegatives more frequently possessed AB KIR genotypes, which contain more activating KIR. The data support an important role for NK cells and KIR/HLA interactions in antiviral immunity.

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