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Nat Rev Immunol. 2005 Mar;5(3):201-14.

MHC class I molecules and KIRs in human history, health and survival.

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Departments of Structural Biology, and Microbiology and Immunology, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305, USA.


MHC class I molecules are ligands for the killer-cell immunoglobulin-like receptors (KIRs), which are expressed by natural killer cells and T cells. The interactions between these molecules contribute to both innate and adaptive immunity. KIRs and MHC class I molecules are encoded by unlinked polymorphic gene families that distinguish all but the most related individuals. Combinations of MHC class I and KIR variants influence resistance to infections, susceptibility to autoimmune diseases and complications of pregnancy, as well as outcome after haematopoietic stem-cell transplantation. Such correlations raise the possibility that interplay between KIR and MHC class I polymorphisms has facilitated human survival in the presence of epidemic infections and has influenced both reproduction and population growth.

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