Influence of HLA-C Expression Level on HIV Control

Science  05 Apr 2013:
Vol. 340, Issue 6128, pp. 87-91
DOI: 10.1126/science.1232685

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Thwarting HIV

Multiple genome-wide association studies have revealed that human leukocyte antigen (HLA) genes of the major histocompatibility complex locus have the strongest impact on HIV. In particular, a single-nucleotide polymorphism 35 base pairs upstream of HLA-C shows significant association with viral load and protection against HIV. How HLA-C mediates these effects is unknown. Apps et al. (p. 87) now demonstrate that increasing surface expression of HLA-C is associated with reduced viral load and reduced rate of progression to low CD4+ T cell counts in African and European Americans. High HLA-C expression likely promoted improved HIV control through a more effective cytotoxic CD8+ T cell response. In contrast to HIV infection, high HLA-C expression was associated with a higher risk of the inflammatory bowel disease, Crohn's disease.


A variant upstream of human leukocyte antigen C (HLA-C) shows the most significant genome-wide effect on HIV control in European Americans and is also associated with the level of HLA-C expression. We characterized the differential cell surface expression levels of all common HLA-C allotypes and tested directly for effects of HLA-C expression on outcomes of HIV infection in 5243 individuals. Increasing HLA-C expression was associated with protection against multiple outcomes independently of individual HLA allelic effects in both African and European Americans, regardless of their distinct HLA-C frequencies and linkage relationships with HLA-B and HLA-A. Higher HLA-C expression was correlated with increased likelihood of cytotoxic T lymphocyte responses and frequency of viral escape mutation. In contrast, high HLA-C expression had a deleterious effect in Crohn’s disease, suggesting a broader influence of HLA expression levels in human disease.

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