This work investigates the possibility that HLA-G, a molecule modulating innate and adaptive immunity, is part of an immune escape strategy of chronic lymphocytic leukemia cells. A 14 base pair insertion/deletion polymorphism (rs66554220) in the 3′-untranslated region of HLA-G influences mRNA stability and protein expression. The analysis of a cohort of patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia confirmed that del/del individuals are characterized by higher levels of surface and soluble HLA-G than subjects with the other two genotypes. In line with its role in immunomodulation, the percentage of regulatory T lymphocytes is higher in del/del patients than in patients with the other genotypes and correlates with the amounts of surface or soluble HLA-G. Furthermore, addition of sHLA-G-rich plasma from patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia induces natural killer cell apoptosis and impairs natural killer cell lysis, with effects proportional to the amount of soluble HLA-G added. Lastly, the presence of an HLA-G 14 base pair polymorphism is of prognostic value, with del/del patients showing reduced overall survival, as compared to those with other genotypes. These results suggest that: (i) the HLA-G 14 base pair polymorphism influences the levels of surface and soluble HLA-G expression, and (ii) the over-expression of HLA-G molecules contributes to creating tolerogenic conditions.
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