Chimpanzees use more varied receptors and ligands than humans for inhibitory killer cell Ig-like receptor recognition of the MHC-C1 and MHC-C2 epitopes.
Humans and chimpanzees have orthologous MHC class I, but few orthologous killer cell Ig-like receptors (KIR). Most divergent are lineage III KIR, which in humans include the inhibitory KIR2DL1 and 2DL2/3 specific for HLA-C. Six lineage III chimpanzee KIR were identified as candidate inhibitory MHC-C receptors and studied using cytolytic assays, to assess the capacity of a defined KIR to function with a defined MHC class I allotype, and direct binding assays with KIR-Fc fusion proteins. Pt-KIR2DL6 and 2DL8 were demonstrated to be inhibitory C1 receptors with a specificity and specificity-determining residue (lysine 44) like KIR2DL3. Analogously, Pt-KIR2DL7 is like KIR2DL1, an inhibitory C2 receptor having methionine 44. Pt-KIR3DL4 and 3DL5 are unusual lineage III KIR with D0 domains, which are also inhibitory C2 receptors with methionine 44. Removal of D0 from KIR3DL, or its addition to KIR2DL, had no effect on KIR function. Pt-KIR2DL9, a fourth inhibitory C2 receptor, has glutamate 44, a previously uncharacterized specificity-determining residue that is absent from human KIR. Reconstruction of the ancestral hominoid KIR sequence shows it encoded lysine 44, indicating that KIR having methionine 44 and glutamate 44 subsequently evolved by independent point substitutions. Thus, MHC-C2-specific KIR have evolved independently on at least two occasions. None of the six chimpanzee KIR studied resembles KIR2DL2, which interacts strongly with C1 and cross-reacts with C2. Whereas human HLA-B allotypes that have functional C1 epitopes are either rare (HLA-B*73) or geographically localized (HLA-B*46), some 25% of Patr-B allotypes have the C1 epitope and are functional KIR ligands.