Loss and Gain of Natural Killer Cell Receptor Function in an African Hunter-Gatherer Population.
Modulating natural killer cell functions in human immunity and reproduction are diverse interactions between the killer cell immunoglobulin-like receptors (KIR) of Natural Killer (NK) cells and HLA class I ligands on the surface of tissue cells. Dominant interactions are between KIR2DL1 and the C2 epitope of HLA-C and between KIR2DL2/3 and the C1 epitope of HLA-C. KhoeSan hunter-gatherers of Southern Africa represent the earliest population divergence known and are the most genetically diverse indigenous people, qualities reflected in their KIR and HLA genes. Of the ten KhoeSan KIR2DL1 alleles, KIR2DL1*022 and KIR2DL1*026 likely originated in the KhoeSan, and later were transmitted at low frequency to the neighboring Zulus through gene flow. These alleles arose by point mutation from other KhoeSan KIR2DL1 alleles that are more widespread globally. Mutation of KIR2DL1*001 gave rise to KIR2DL1*022, causing loss of C2 recognition and gain of C1 recognition. This makes KIR2DL1*022 a more avid and specific C1 receptor than any KIR2DL2/3 allotype. Mutation of KIR2DL1*012 gave rise to KIR2DL1*026, causing premature termination of translation at the end of the transmembrane domain. This makes KIR2DL1*026 a membrane-associated receptor that lacks both a cytoplasmic tail and signaling function. At higher frequencies than their parental allotypes, the combined effect of the KhoeSan-specific KIR2DL1*022 and KIR2DL1*026 is to reduce the frequency of strong inhibitory C2 receptors and increase the frequency of strong inhibitory C1 receptors. Because interaction of KIR2DL1 with C2 is associated with risk of pregnancy disorder, these functional changes are potentially advantageous. Whereas all other KhoeSan KIR2DL1 alleles are present on a wide diversity of centromeric KIR haplotypes, KIR2DL1*026 is present on a single KIR haplotype and KIR2DL1*022 is present on two very similar haplotypes. The high linkage disequilibrium across their haplotypes is consistent with a recent emergence for these KIR2DL1 alleles that have distinctive functions.