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Annu Rev Genomics Hum Genet. 2013;14:301-23. doi: 10.1146/annurev-genom-091212-153455. Epub 2013 Jul 15.

Major histocompatibility complex genomics and human disease.

Author information

1
Department of Pathology and Cambridge Institute for Medical Research, University of Cambridge, Cambridge CB2 1QP, United Kingdom; email: jt233@cam.ac.uk.

Abstract

Over several decades, various forms of genomic analysis of the human major histocompatibility complex (MHC) have been extremely successful in picking up many disease associations. This is to be expected, as the MHC region is one of the most gene-dense and polymorphic stretches of human DNA. It also encodes proteins critical to immunity, including several controlling antigen processing and presentation. Single-nucleotide polymorphism genotyping and human leukocyte antigen (HLA) imputation now permit the screening of large sample sets, a technique further facilitated by high-throughput sequencing. These methods promise to yield more precise contributions of MHC variants to disease. However, interpretation of MHC-disease associations in terms of the functions of variants has been problematic. Most studies confirm the paramount importance of class I and class II molecules, which are key to resistance to infection. Infection is likely driving the extreme variation of these genes across the human population, but this has been difficult to demonstrate. In contrast, many associations with autoimmune conditions have been shown to be specific to certain class I and class II alleles. Interestingly, conditions other than infections and autoimmunity are also associated with the MHC, including some cancers and neuropathies. These associations could be indirect, owing, for example, to the infectious history of a particular individual and selective pressures operating at the population level.

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