MHC class I molecules and KIRs in human history, health and survival

Nat Rev Immunol. 2005 Mar;5(3):201-14. doi: 10.1038/nri1570.


MHC class I molecules are ligands for the killer-cell immunoglobulin-like receptors (KIRs), which are expressed by natural killer cells and T cells. The interactions between these molecules contribute to both innate and adaptive immunity. KIRs and MHC class I molecules are encoded by unlinked polymorphic gene families that distinguish all but the most related individuals. Combinations of MHC class I and KIR variants influence resistance to infections, susceptibility to autoimmune diseases and complications of pregnancy, as well as outcome after haematopoietic stem-cell transplantation. Such correlations raise the possibility that interplay between KIR and MHC class I polymorphisms has facilitated human survival in the presence of epidemic infections and has influenced both reproduction and population growth.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Autoimmune Diseases / genetics
  • Autoimmune Diseases / immunology
  • Communicable Diseases / genetics
  • Communicable Diseases / immunology
  • Evolution, Molecular*
  • Histocompatibility Antigens Class I / genetics*
  • Histocompatibility Antigens Class I / immunology
  • Humans
  • Lymphocytes / cytology
  • Lymphocytes / immunology
  • Lymphocytes / metabolism
  • Models, Immunological
  • Neoplasms / genetics
  • Neoplasms / immunology
  • Receptors, Immunologic / genetics*
  • Receptors, Immunologic / immunology
  • Receptors, KIR


  • Histocompatibility Antigens Class I
  • Receptors, Immunologic
  • Receptors, KIR