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Immunogenetics. 2003 Feb;54(11):782-90. Epub 2003 Feb 4.

Identification of the mouse killer immunoglobulin-like receptor-like (Kirl) gene family mapping to chromosome X.

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Immunology Department, Holland Laboratory for Biomedical Research, American Red Cross, 15601 Crabbs Branch Way, Rockville, MD 20855, USA.


Natural killer (NK) inhibitory receptors, which recognize major histocompatability complex (MHC) proteins in humans, are known as killer Ig-like receptors (KIRs) and are encoded by a multi-gene immunoglobulin (Ig) superfamily. In a screen for genes differentially expressed in the mouse thymus, we discovered the first close rodent homologue of the NK receptor KIR family, which we named KIR- Like (Kirl). KIRL1 shares 40% amino acid identity with primate KIR family members, with the majority of the homology contained within the Ig-like ectodomains. KIRL1 is more similar to the KIRs than to any other known member of the Ig domain-containing leukocyte receptor superfamily. This highly significant homology suggests that the KIR family did not arise independently in primates, as has been previously suggested, but rather evolved from a primordial gene already present in the common rodent/primate ancestor. KIRL1 lacks the cytoplasmic protein motifs that mediate inhibition in KIRs (immunoregulatory tyrosine inhibiting motif, ITIM); KIRL1 also lacks the transmembrane activation signature (a conserved K residue involved in association with the immunoregulatory tyrosine activating motif-containing DAP12 molecule) found in some KIRs. Nevertheless, we hypothesize that Kirl1 is functional, for the following reasons: (1) Kirl1 mRNA is expressed at high levels in immature thymocytes; (2) Kirl1 is regulated during thymocyte development; (3) KIRL1 protein is detected in thymus. We also show that the mouse genome contains a closely related, transcribed gene, which we name Kirl2. Kirl2 encodes a KIR-like molecule with three Ig-like domains and also lacks tyrosine-based immunoregulatory motifs in its cytoplasmic region.

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