Population-level genetic analysis can give us clues as to which factors guide immune evolution. Now, Horowitz et al. have applied this analysis to polymorphisms in HLA that affect NK cell education. They find that the HLA-B haplotype −21M that delivers functional peptides to the conserved CD94/NKG2A receptor rarely encodes ligands for the more diverse killer cell immunoglobulin-like receptors (KIRs), in contrast to the haplotype −21T, which does not deliver functional peptides. Individuals homo- or heterozygous for −21M are more likely to have more diverse CD94/NKG2A+ NK cells, suggesting that these HLA haplotypes may have specialized to either the KIR or CD94/NKG2A school through complementary coevolution.
The Khoe-San people of Africa are one of the most ancient lineages of humans and thus can be examined to identify both ancient and recent humanspecific genetic variation. Investigating the alleles of the killer cell immunoglobulin-like receptors and their human leukocyte antigen class I ligands, which are involved in the immune response, Hilton et al. found evidence of both old and new genetic variants. Because these genes can affect pregnancy, the identification of one recently evolved variant at relatively high frequencies suggests that it may have conferred a selective advantage.
Jennie Dusheck reports on our latest findings for Scope.