Soluble HLA class I molecules/CD8 ligation trigger apoptosis of CD8+ cells by Fas/Fas-ligand interaction.

Francesco Puppo, Paola Contini, Massimo Ghio, Francesco Indiveri

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The human major histocompatibility complex (HLA) encodes two sets of HLA class I molecules, which have been termed class Ia (or classical) and class Ib (or nonclassical) molecules. The class Ia molecules include the gene products of HLA-A, HLA-B, and HLA-C loci and are characterized by broad tissue expression and by a high degree of polymorphism. The class Ib molecules include the gene products of HLA-E, HLA-F, and HLA-G loci and are characterized by a restricted tissue distribution and by limited polymorphism. Besides being expressed on nucleated cells, classical and nonclassical HLA class I molecules are present in serum in soluble form (sHLA-I). The serum level of sHLA-I molecules is significantly increased in a variety of physiological and pathological conditions such as pregnancy, acute rejection episodes following organ allografts, acute graft-versus-host-disease (GVHD) following bone marrow transplantation, autoimmune diseases, viral infections, and malignant melanoma. Because of the statistically significant association with clinical parameters, the level of sHLA-I antigens has been suggested to represent a useful marker to predict the evolution of viral infections and to monitor the clinical course of allografts. Moreover, elevated levels of functional sHLA-I and soluble Fas-ligand molecules have been detected by our group in blood components and might play a role in the immunomodulatory effect of autologous and allogeneic transfusions. Several lines of evidence suggest that sHLA-I molecules are immunologically functional and may play an immunoregulatory role. In fact, they have been shown to elicit antibodies in both allogeneic and xenogeneic combinations, to inhibit the activity of alloreactive cytotoxic T lymphocytes (CTL), and to induce apoptosis in alloreactive and virus-specific CTL, in activated autologous and allogeneic CD8+ T cells, and in CD8+ NK cells. There is general agreement about the mechanism underlying the inhibition of CTL activity by sHLA antigens. This inhibition appears to be mediated by interactions of sHLA-I antigens a1 and a2 domains with T cell receptor (TCR). By contrast, there is conflicting information about the mechanism underlying induction of apoptosis of activated T cells by sHLA-I antigens. Several authors reported that sHLA-I molecules induced apoptosis of alloreactive CD8+ cytotoxic T lymphocytes through interaction with their TCR. However, our own data and those other groups indicate that classical and nonclassical sHLA-I molecules trigger Fas/Fas-ligand mediated apoptosis of phytohemoagglutinin (PHA)-activated and virus-specific CD8+ T lymphocytes as well as of CD8+ NK cells by interacting with CD8 coreceptor. Recently, we performed a series of experiments in our laboratory to clarify the intracellular mechanism(s) leading to Fas-ligand upregulation and secretion. These unpublished data indicate that sHLA-I/CD8 ligation elicits the phosphorylation of p56lck protein thyrosin kinase (PTK) associated with CD8 cytoplasmic domain in the absence of any other TCR-derived signal, the activation of syk-like ZAP-70 PTK and protein kinase C, and extracellular calcium influx. Then, activation and nuclear translocation of NF-kB and NF-AT occurs, leading to Fas-ligand mRNA transcription and soluble Fas-ligand secretion, which delivers the death signal. Interestingly, soluble Fas-ligand secretion and CD8+ cell apoptosis, but not CD8+ cell cytolitic activity, are completely inhibited by Cyclosporin A, which specifically blocks the activation of the calcineurin/calmodulin pathway. Taken together, these data suggest that sHLA-I molecules are involved in a signal-transduction pathway leading to Fas-ligand expression, soluble Fas-ligand secretion, and CD8+ cells apoptosis.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)421-423
Number of pages3
Publication statusPublished - Feb 12 2002

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Environmental Science(all)
  • Medicine(all)


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