Inheritable variable sizes of DNA stretches in the human MHC: conserved extended haplotypes and their fragments or blocks

Tissue Antigens. 2003 Jul;62(1):1-20. doi: 10.1034/j.1399-0039.2003.00098.x.


The difference in sizes of conserved stretches of DNA sequence within the major histocompatibility complex (MHC) in human individuals constitutes an underappreciated genetic diversity that has many practical implications. We developed a model to describe the variable sizes of stretches of conserved DNA in the MHC using the known frequencies of four different kinds of small (< 0.2 Mb) blocks of relatively conserved DNA sequence: HLA-Cw/B; TNF; complotype; and HLA-DR/DQ. Each of these small blocks is composed of two or more alleles of closely linked loci inherited as one genetic unit. We updated the concept of the conserved extended haplotype (CEH) using HLA allele identification and TNF microsatellites to show that specific combinations of the four blocks form single genetic units (>/= 1.5 Mb) with a total haplotype frequency in the Caucasian population of 0.30. Some CEHs extend to the HLA-A and -DPB1 loci forming fixed genetic units of up to at least 3.2 Mb of DNA. Finally, intermediate fragments of CEHs also exist, which are, nevertheless, larger than any of the four small blocks. This complexity of genetic fixity at various levels should be taken into account in studies of genetic disease association, immune response control, and human diversity. This knowledge could also be used for matching CEHs and their fragments for patients undergoing allotransplantation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Alleles
  • Chromosomes, Human, Pair 6
  • DNA / genetics*
  • Gene Frequency / immunology
  • Genetic Variation*
  • Haplotypes*
  • Histocompatibility Antigens Class I / genetics
  • Histocompatibility Antigens Class II / genetics
  • Humans
  • Major Histocompatibility Complex*
  • Microsatellite Repeats
  • Models, Genetic
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha / genetics


  • Histocompatibility Antigens Class I
  • Histocompatibility Antigens Class II
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha
  • DNA