Direct HLA Genetic Comparisons Identify Highly Matched Unrelated Donor-Recipient Pairs with Improved Transplantation Outcome

Biol Blood Marrow Transplant. 2019 May;25(5):921-931. doi: 10.1016/j.bbmt.2018.12.006. Epub 2018 Dec 8.


HLA matching by allele-level genotyping is largely based on genetic similarity between a few exons that encode the antigen recognition domain (ARD) of the HLA protein. Next-generation sequencing (NGS) can identify HLA genetic polymorphisms in non-ARD-encoding exons, introns, and untranslated regions, but the impact of these polymorphisms on hematopoietic cell transplantation (HCT) outcome is unclear. We performed NGS-based sequencing of 11 HLA loci on a well-characterized retrospective cohort of 166 unrelated donor-recipient HCT pairs. Genetic differences between HCT pairs were identified and visualized using a novel bioinformatics approach that directly compares phased full-length HLA sequences. Our approach was able to correctly classify HCT pairs without known HLA allele-level mismatches and also to identify a subset of HLA allele-matched HCT pairs with very few to no genetic differences in the sequenced HLA regions. This highly HLA genetically matched unrelated HCT group shows improved overall survival and reduced acute graft-versus-host disease compared with HCT pairs with HLA allele-level mismatches. These results suggest that direct genetic matching of HLA loci may offer an additional means of HCT donor selection beyond traditional HLA allele comparisons and suggests that genetic similarity as defined by HLA sequencing may have a novel role in unrelated HCT donor selection. Finally, our approach can enable larger cohort studies with adequate power to detect differences in other HCT outcomes based on genetic similarity within the HLA loci.

Keywords: Allogeneic transplantation; HLA; Next-generation sequencing; Unrelated donor.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Alleles
  • Female
  • Graft vs Host Disease / prevention & control
  • HLA Antigens / genetics*
  • Hematopoietic Stem Cell Transplantation / adverse effects
  • Hematopoietic Stem Cell Transplantation / methods*
  • Hematopoietic Stem Cell Transplantation / mortality
  • High-Throughput Nucleotide Sequencing
  • Histocompatibility
  • Histocompatibility Testing / methods*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Survival Rate
  • Unrelated Donors*


  • HLA Antigens