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Nature. 1987 May 14-20;327(6118):161-4.

MHC antigens in urine as olfactory recognition cues.


The classical class I antigens of the major histocompatibility complex (MHC) are cell-surface glycoproteins which were originally discovered because they cause rapid rejection of cells or tissues grafted between unrelated individuals. These molecules are encoded by the K, D and L loci of the mouse MHC (and analogous loci in other species) which show extreme species polymorphism and a large number of alleles. In an outbreeding population 3.6 X 10(9) unique MHC class I phenotypes can be encoded by the 100 alleles at each of the K and D loci and the 6 alleles at the L locus. This level of polymorphism ensures that the cells and tissues of each unrelated individual are uniquely identified by their class I membrane-bound antigens. Like other membrane bound proteins, these class I molecules are anchored in the lipid bilayer by a hydrophobic domain encoded by exon 5. However, there have been reports of the occurrence of classical class I molecules in true solution in the blood of humans, mice, and rats. We report here that classical polymorphic class I molecules in normal rats are constitutively excreted in the urine and that untrained rats can distinguish the smell of urine samples taken from normal donors that differ only at the class I MHC locus and therefore excrete different allelomorphs of class I molecules in their urine.

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