Background: MHC class II binding predictions are widely used to identify epitope candidates in infectious agents, allergens, cancer and autoantigens. The vast majority of prediction algorithms for human MHC class II to date have targeted HLA molecules encoded in the DR locus. This reflects a significant gap in knowledge as HLA DP and DQ molecules are presumably equally important, and have only been studied less because they are more difficult to handle experimentally.
Results: In this study, we aimed to narrow this gap by providing a large scale dataset of over 17,000 HLA-peptide binding affinities for a set of 11 HLA DP and DQ alleles. We also expanded our dataset for HLA DR alleles resulting in a total of 40,000 MHC class II binding affinities covering 26 allelic variants. Utilizing this dataset, we generated prediction tools utilizing several machine learning algorithms and evaluated their performance.
Conclusion: We found that 1) prediction methodologies developed for HLA DR molecules perform equally well for DP or DQ molecules. 2) Prediction performances were significantly increased compared to previous reports due to the larger amounts of training data available. 3) The presence of homologous peptides between training and testing datasets should be avoided to give real-world estimates of prediction performance metrics, but the relative ranking of different predictors is largely unaffected by the presence of homologous peptides, and predictors intended for end-user applications should include all training data for maximum performance. 4) The recently developed NN-align prediction method significantly outperformed all other algorithms, including a naïve consensus based on all prediction methods. A new consensus method dropping the comparably weak ARB prediction method could outperform the NN-align method, but further research into how to best combine MHC class II binding predictions is required.