Class II genes of the human major histocompatibility complex (MHC) are highly polymorphic. Allelic variation of structural genes provides diversity in immune cell interactions, contributing to the formation of the T cell repertoire and to susceptibility to certain autoimmune diseases. We now report that allelic polymorphism also exists in the promoter and upstream regulatory regions (URR) of human histocompatibility leukocyte antigen (HLA) class II genes. Nucleotide sequencing of these regulatory regions of seven alleles of the DQB locus reveals a number of allele-specific polymorphisms, some of which lie in functionally critical consensus regions thought to be highly conserved in class II promoters. These sequence differences also correspond to allelic differences in binding of nuclear proteins to the URR. Fragments of the URR of two DQB alleles were analyzed for binding to nuclear proteins extracted from human B lymphoblastoid cell lines (B-LCL). Gel retardation assays showed substantially different banding patterns to the two promoters, including prominent variation in nuclear protein binding to the partially conserved X box regions and a novel upstream polymorphic sequence element. Comparison of these two polymorphic alleles in a transient expression system demonstrated a marked difference in their promoter strengths determined by relative abilities to initiate transcription of the chloramphenicol acetyltransferase reporter gene in human B-LCL. Shuttling of URR sequences between alleles showed that functional variation corresponded to both the X box and upstream sequence polymorphic sites. These findings identify an important source of MHC class II diversity, and suggest the possibility that such regulatory region polymorphisms may confer allelic differences in expression, inducibility, and/or tissue specificity of class II molecules.

This content is only available as a PDF.