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Eur J Immunol. 1998 Aug;28(8):2407-16.

An allele-specific, stochastic gene expression process controls the expression of multiple Ly49 family genes and generates a diverse, MHC-specific NK cell receptor repertoire.

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Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research, Lausanne Branch, University of Lausanne, Epalinges, Switzerland.


Mouse NK cells express MHC class I-specific inhibitory Ly49 receptors. Since these receptors display distinct ligand specificities and are clonally distributed, their expression generates a diverse NK cell receptor repertoire specific for MHC class I molecules. We have previously found that the Dd (or Dk)-specific Ly49A receptor is usually expressed from a single allele. However, a small fraction of short-term NK cell clones expressed both Ly49A alleles, suggesting that the two Ly49A alleles are independently and randomly expressed. Here we show that the genes for two additional Ly49 receptors (Ly49C and Ly49G2) are also expressed in a (predominantly) mono-allelic fashion. Since single NK cells can co-express multiple Ly49 receptors, we also investigated whether mono-allelic expression from within the tightly linked Ly49 gene cluster is coordinate or independent. Our clonal analysis suggests that the expression of alleles of distinct Ly49 genes is not coordinate. Thus Ly49 alleles are apparently independently and randomly chosen for stable expression, a process that directly restricts the number of Ly49 receptors expressed per single NK cell. We propose that the Ly49 receptor repertoire specific for MHC class I is generated by an allele-specific, stochastic gene expression process that acts on the entire Ly49 gene cluster.

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