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Sci Rep. 2013;3:1716. doi: 10.1038/srep01716.

A major allogenic leukocyte antigen in the agnathan hagfish.

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Department of Biophysics and Biochemistry, Graduate School of Science, The University of Tokyo, Tokyo, Japan.


All vertebrates, from jawless fish to mammals, possess adaptive immune systems that can detect and inactivate non-self-antigens through a vast repertoire of antigen receptors. Unlike jawed vertebrates, the hagfish utilizes variable lymphocyte receptors (VLRs) that are unrelated to immunoglobulin molecules but are diversified by copy-choice gene conversion mechanism. Here, we report that hagfish VLRs react with allogenic leukocyte antigens but not with self-antigens. We found that a highly polymorphic membrane protein, NICIR3, is recognized by VLRs as an allogenic leukocyte antigen (ALA). In a serological cross-reactivity test, a close correlation was observed between the amino acid differences in the protein sequences and the VLR cross-reactivities. This leukocyte antigen was predominantly expressed in phagocytic leukocytes, where it was associated with phagocytosed protein antigens. These findings suggest that a polymorphic leukocyte antigen, NICIR3/ALA, plays a pivotal role in jawless vertebrate adaptive immunity.

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