Genomics of the major histocompatibility complex: haplotypes, duplication, retroviruses and disease

Immunol Rev. 1999 Feb;167:275-304. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-065x.1999.tb01399.x.


The genomic region encompassing the Major Histocompatibility Complex (MHC) contains polymorphic frozen blocks which have developed by local imperfect sequential duplication associated with insertion and deletion (indels). In the alpha block surrounding HLA-A, there are ten duplication units or beads on the 62.1 ancestral haplotype. Each bead contains or contained sequences representing Class I, PERB11 (MHC Class I chain related (MIC) and human endogenous retrovirus (HERV) 16. Here we consider explanations for co-occurrence of genomic polymorphism, duplication and HERVs and we ask how these features encode susceptibility to numerous and very diverse diseases. Ancestral haplotypes differ in their copy number and indels in addition to their coding regions. Disease susceptibility could be a function of all of these differences. We propose a model of the evolution of the human MHC. Population-specific integration of retroviral sequences could explain rapid diversification through duplication and differential disease susceptibility. If HERV sequences can be protective, there are exciting prospects for manipulation. In the meanwhile, it will be necessary to understand the function of MHC genes such as PERB11 (MIC) and many others discovered by genomic sequencing.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Base Sequence
  • Disease Susceptibility / immunology*
  • Disease Susceptibility / virology*
  • Gene Duplication*
  • Haplotypes / immunology*
  • Humans
  • Major Histocompatibility Complex / genetics*
  • Major Histocompatibility Complex / immunology
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Retroviridae / genetics*
  • Retroviridae / immunology