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J Immunol. 2007 Jul 1;179(1):491-504.

Evolution of killer cell Ig-like receptor (KIR) genes: definition of an orangutan KIR haplotype reveals expansion of lineage III KIR associated with the emergence of MHC-C.

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  • 1Department of Structural Biology, and Department of Microbiology and Immunology, School of Medicine, Stanford University, 299 Campus Drive West, Stanford, CA 94305.


Orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus) MHC-C appears less evolved than human HLA-C: Popy-C is not fixed and its alleles encode only one (C1) of the two motifs for killer cell Ig-like receptor (KIR) ligands. To assess the structure and complexity of the orangutan KIR locus, the complete nucleotide sequence of an orangutan KIR haplotype was determined. The PopyKIR locus is flanked by LILR and FCAR and consists of seven genes and pseudogenes, two novel and five corresponding to known cDNA. Distinguishing all KIRs in this rapidly evolving KIR locus from the KIR3DX1 gene is an LTR33A/MLT1D element in intron 3. These two forms of KIR represent lineages that originated by duplication of a common ancestor. The conserved, framework regions of primate KIR loci comprise the 5' part of a lineage V KIR, the 3' part of a pseudogene, the complete 2DL4 gene, and the 3' part of a lineage II KIR. Although previously defined PopyKIR2DL4 alleles contain premature termination codons, the sequenced haplotype's PopyKIR2DL4 allele encodes a full-length protein. A model for KIR evolution is proposed. Distinguishing the orangutan KIR haplotype from the proposed common ancestor of primate KIR haplotypes is an increased number to give three lineage III KIR genes in the centromeric part of the locus, the site for most human lineage III genes encoding HLA-C specific KIR. Thus, expansion of lineage III KIR is associated with emergence of MHC-C.

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