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J Reprod Immunol. 2008 Jun;78(1):28-39. Epub 2007 Dec 3.

The role of tapasin in MHC class I protein trafficking in embryos and T cells.

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Department of Biology, 134 Mugar Hall, Northeastern University, Boston, MA 02115, USA.


Preimplantation mouse embryos express both classical (class Ia) and nonclassical (class Ib) MHC class I proteins, and yet are not rejected by the maternal immune system. Although the function of the embryonic MHC class Ia proteins is unknown, one MHC class Ib protein, Qa-2, the product of the preimplantation embryo development (Ped) gene, actually enhances reproductive success. Similar in structure to MHC class Ia proteins, Qa-2 protein is a trimer of the alpha (heavy) chain, beta(2) microglobulin and a bound peptide. Studies on the folding, assembly and trafficking of MHC class Ia molecules to the cell surface have revealed this process to be dependent on multiple protein chaperone molecules, but information on the role of chaperone molecules in Qa-2 expression is incomplete. Here, we report the detection of mRNA for four chaperone molecules (TAP1, TAP2, calnexin and tapasin) in preimplantation embryos. We then focused on the role of the MHC-dedicated chaperone, tapasin, on Qa-2 protein expression. First, we demonstrated that tapasin protein is expressed by preimplantation embryos. Then, we used tapasin knockout mice to evaluate the role of tapasin in Qa-2 protein expression on both T cells and preimplantation embryos. We report here that optimal cell surface expression of Qa-2 is dependent on tapasin in both T cells and preimplantation embryos. Identification of the molecules involved in regulation of MHC class I protein expression in early embryos is an important first step in gaining insight into mechanisms of escape of embryos from destruction by the maternal immune system.

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