Ly49 receptors: evolution, genetic diversity, and impact on immunity

Immunol Rev. 2015 Sep;267(1):137-47. doi: 10.1111/imr.12318.


Natural killer (NK) cells express cell surface receptors that recognize class I major histocompatibility complex (MHC-I) molecules to distinguish between healthy and unhealthy cells. The multigenic and polymorphic nature of the MHC-I genes has influenced the convergent evolution of similarly polymorphic and diversified NK cell receptor families: the C-type lectin-like Ly49 receptors in mice, and the killer cell immunoglobulin-like receptors (KIRs) in humans. Although structurally distinct, both receptor families have similar functions in terms of MHC-I recognition and downstream signal transduction, and they regulate multiple aspects of NK cell biology during development and after maturation as fully differentiated and functionally competent cells. The Ly49 gene locus has undergone rapid, lineage-specific expansions and contractions resulting in multiple distinct haplotypes of variable gene number, allelic diversity, and MHC-I ligand specificity. This in turn has influenced the type and degree of Ly49 receptor expression on NK cells, and their contribution to immunity in different mouse strains. In this review, we have attempted to describe the evolutionary processes that have shaped strain-specific Ly49 receptor repertoires, and their impact on NK cell functions during health and disease.

Keywords: Ly49; MHC-I; receptor:ligand co-evolution.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Evolution, Molecular
  • Genetic Variation / genetics
  • Genetic Variation / immunology*
  • Histocompatibility Antigens Class I / genetics
  • Histocompatibility Antigens Class I / immunology
  • Humans
  • Immunity / genetics
  • Immunity / immunology*
  • Killer Cells, Natural / immunology
  • Killer Cells, Natural / metabolism
  • Mice
  • NK Cell Lectin-Like Receptor Subfamily A / genetics
  • NK Cell Lectin-Like Receptor Subfamily A / immunology*
  • Receptors, KIR / genetics
  • Receptors, KIR / immunology*


  • Histocompatibility Antigens Class I
  • NK Cell Lectin-Like Receptor Subfamily A
  • Receptors, KIR