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J Immunol. 2003 Jun 15;170(12):6073-81.

Different and divergent regulation of the KIR2DL4 and KIR3DL1 promoters.

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Department of Pathology, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, United Kingdom.


The killer Ig-like receptors (KIR) are a family of highly related MHC class I receptors that show extreme genetic polymorphism both within the human population and between closely related primate species, suggestive of rapid evolutionary diversification. Most KIR are expressed in a variegated fashion by the NK population, giving rise to an NK repertoire of specificities for MHC class I. We compared the promoter for KIR3DL1, which exhibits variegated gene expression, with that for KIR2DL4, which is expressed by all NK cell clones. Maximum transcriptional activity of each was encoded within approximately 270 bp upstream of the translation initiation codon. The KIR2DL4 promoter drove reporter gene expression only in NK cells, while the KIR3DL1 promoter was active in a range of cell types, suggesting that the latter requires other regulatory elements for physiological expression. In NK cells, reporter gene expression driven by the KIR2DL4 promoter was greater than that driven by the KIR3DL1 promoter. DNase I footprinting revealed that transcription factor binding sites differ between the two promoters. The data indicate that while the promoters of these two KIR genes share 67% nucleotide identity, they have evolved distinct properties consistent with different roles in regulating the generation of NK repertoire.

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