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Eur J Immunol. 2007 Jul;37(7):1954-65.

Epigenetic silencing of potentially functional KIR2DL5 alleles: Implications for the acquisition of KIR repertoires by NK cells.

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  • 1Servicio de Inmunología, Hospital Universitario Puerta de Hierro, Madrid, Spain.


NK cells detect altered patterns of HLA expression in infections and tumors using a variegated repertoire of killer cell Ig-like receptors (KIR). Each clone surveys different HLA molecules by expressing a limited subset of the KIR encoded in its genome, which is maintained throughout cell divisions by epigenetic mechanisms (methylation of the nonexpressed genes). How KIR repertoires are acquired remains, however, unexplained. Human KIR2DL5 is a useful model for studying KIR expression because it has alleles with similar coding regions, but drastically divergent expression - whilst some are transcribed in a typically clonal manner, others, with distinctive promoter polymorphisms, are nonexpressed. Here we investigate the relationship between the sequence diversity of KIR2DL5, including three novel alleles, and its variable transcription. The promoters of the transcribed alleles recruit the transcriptional regulator RUNX3, whilst a mutation shared by all silent alleles precludes this binding. However, all promoters are functional in vitro, and pharmacological DNA demethylation of NK cells rescues the transcription of silent alleles, indicating that only epigenetic mechanisms prevent their inclusion in a normal KIR repertoire. Our results are consistent with a model in which RUNX factors could function as switch elements in the acquisition of KIR repertoires by NK cell precursors.

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