Human leucocyte antigen diversity: A biological gift to escape infections, no longer a barrier for haploidentical Hemopoietic Stem Cell Transplantation

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Since the beginning of life, every multicellular organism appeared to have a complex innate immune system although the adaptive immune system, centred on lymphocytes bearing antigen receptors generated by somatic recombination, arose in jawed fish approximately 500 million years ago. The major histocompatibility complex MHC, named the Human leucocyte antigen (HLA) system in humans, represents a vital function structure in the organism by presenting pathogen-derived peptides to T cells as the main initial step of the adaptive immune response. The huge level of polymorphism observed in HLA genes definitely reflects selection, favouring heterozygosity at the individual or population level, in a pathogen-rich environment, although many are located in introns or in exons that do not code for the antigen-biding site of the HLA. Over the past three decades, the extent of allelic diversity at HLA loci has been well characterized using high-resolution HLA-DNA typing and the number of new HLA alleles, produced through next-generation sequencing methods, is even more rapidly increasing. The level of the HLA system polymorphism represents an obstacle to the search of potential compatible donors for patients affected by haematological disease proposed for a hematopoietic stem cell transplant (HSCT). Data reported in literature clearly show that antigenic and/or allelic mismatches between related or unrelated donors and patients influences the successful HSCT outcome. However, the recent development of the new transplant strategy based on the choice of haploidentical donors for HSCT is questioning the role of HLA compatibility, since the great HLA disparities present do not worsen the overall clinical outcome. Nowadays, NGS has contributed to define at allelic levels the HLA polymorphism and solve potential ambiguities. However, HLA functions and tissue typing probably need to be further investigated in the next future, to understand the reasons why in haploidentical transplants the presence of a whole mismatch haplotype between donors and recipients, both the survival rate and the incidence of acute GvHD or graft rejection are similar to those reported for unrelated HSCTs.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)34-40
Number of pages7
JournalInternational Journal of Immunogenetics
Issue number1
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 2019


  • Hemopoietic Stem Cell Transplantation
  • HLA
  • polymorphism
  • population studies

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics
  • Genetics(clinical)

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