Natural killer (NK) cells provide defense in the early stages of the innate immune response against viral infections by producing cytokines and causing cytotoxicity1. The killer immunoglobulin-like receptors (KIRs) on NK cells regulate the inhibition and activation of NK-cell responses through recognition of human leukocyte antigen (HLA) class I molecules on target cells2 KIR and HLA loci are both highly polymorphic, and some HLA class I products bind and trigger cell-surface receptors specified by KIR genes. Here we report that the activating KIR allele KIR3DS1, in combination with HLA-B alleles that encode molecules with isoleucine at position 80 (HLA-B Bw4-80Ile), is associated with delayed progression to AIDS in individuals infected with human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1). In the absence of KIR3DS1, the HLA-B Bw4-80Ile allele was not associated with any of the AIDS outcomes measured. By contrast, in the absence of HLA-B Bw4-80Ile alleles, KIR3DS1 was significantly associated with more rapid progression to AIDS. These observations are strongly suggestive of a model involving an epistatic interaction between the two loci. The strongest synergistic effect of these loci was on progression to depletion of CD4+ T cells, which suggests that a protective response of NK cells involving KIR3DS1 and its HLA class I ligands begins soon after HIV-1 infection.
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We thank P. Parham for comments. This work was supported by funds from the US National Cancer Institute and National Institutes of Health. The content of this publication does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the Department of Health and Human Services, nor does the mention of trade names, commercial products or organizations imply endorsement by the US Government.
The authors declare no competing financial interests.
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