The expression and function of the human major histocompatibility complex (MHC) class Ia genes, human leukocyte antigen (HLA)-A, -B, and -C, is well-established; they are expressed in most nucleated cells and present endogenous peptides to CD8 T cells. However, MHC class Ib genes are poorly characterized and have unknown functions. In humans, the best-characterized class Ib gene is HLA-G. This gene has a restricted tissue expression of the mRNA and a unique pattern of protein expression; it is expressed mainly in the extravillous cytotrophoblast cells in the placenta. The function of HLA-G is not clear, but its presence at the maternal-fetal interface suggests a role in protection of the semiallogeneic fetus. Whereas functional studies using in vitro models and transgenic mice provide useful insights regarding the potential function of this molecule, in vivo studies cannot be performed in humans. Nonhuman primates that are closely related to humans phylogenetically contain homologues of HLA-G. The MHC-G loci in nonhuman primates appear to have diverged from the human HLA-G. However, in the rhesus monkey (Macaca mulatta) and olive baboon (Papio anubis), a novel class Ia-related locus has been described. This gene encodes glycoproteins with characteristics that resemble those of HLA-G, including restricted tissue distribution, alternative splicing of mRNA, truncated cytoplasmic domain, and limited polymorphism. Thus, this molecule may be the functional homologue of HLA-G, and these two species may comprise appropriate models for elucidating the function of HLA-G.
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