Expression of the nonclassical HLA class I antigen, HLA-G, is associated with immune tolerance in view of its role in maintaining the fetus in utero, allowing tumor escape, and favoring graft acceptance. Expressed on invasive trophoblast cells, HLA-G molecules bind inhibitory receptors on maternal T lymphocytes and NK cells, thereby blocking their cytolytic activities and protecting the fetus from maternal immune system attack. The HLA-G gene consists of 15 alleles, including a null allele, HLA-G*0105N. HLA-G*0105N presents a single base deletion, preventing translation of both membrane-bound (HLA-G1) and full-length soluble isoforms (HLA-G5) as well as of the spliced HLA-G4 isoform. The identification of healthy subjects homozygous for this HLA-G null allele suggests that the HLA-G*0105N allele may generate other HLA-G isoforms, such as membrane-bound HLA-G2 and -G3 and the soluble HLA-G6 and -G7 proteins, which may substitute for HLA-G1 and -G5, thus assuming the immune tolerogeneic function of HLA-G. To investigate this point, we cloned genomic HLA-G*0105N DNA and transfected it into an HLA-class I-positive human cell line. The results obtained indicated that HLA-G proteins were indeed present in HLA-G*0105N-transfected cells and were able to protect against NK cell lysis. These findings emphasize the role of the other HLA-G isoforms as immune tolerogeneic molecules that may also contribute to maternal tolerance of the semiallogenic fetus as well as tumor escape and other types of allogeneic tissue acceptance.
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