Natural killer (NK) cells are lymphocytes that function as part of the innate immune system. Their activity is controlled by a range of inhibitory and activating receptors, including the important killer-cell immunoglobulin-like receptors (KIR). The KIR are a multi-gene family of receptors that interact with the human leukocyte antigen (HLA) class I family of molecules and are characterised by extensive allelic polymorphism. Their expression on the cell surface of NK cells is highly variable, but the factors responsible for this variability are not yet clearly understood. In the current study, we investigated KIR expression in a healthy human cohort that we had previously characterised in depth at a genetic level, with KIR allele typing and HLA class I ligand genotypes available for all donors (n=198). Allelic polymorphism significantly affected the phenotypic expression of all KIR analysed, whereas HLA ligand background influenced the expression levels of 2DL1 and 2DL3. In particular, we found that although 2DL2 may influence 2DL1 expression, this appears to be owing to variation in 2DL1 copy number. Finally, the inhibitory receptor LILRB1 had higher expression levels in individuals with B/B KIR genotypes, suggesting a possible relationship between KIR and non-KIR receptors, which serves to balance NK cell activation potential.
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