Original articles

Human leukocyte antigen (HLA) diversity and clinical applications in South Africa

J Mellet, M Tshabalala, O Agbedare, PWA Meyer, C M Gray, M S Pepper

Abstract


The major histocompatibility complex, known as the human leukocyte antigen (HLA) complex in humans, forms an integral component of adaptive T cell immunity by presenting self and non-self peptides to the T cell receptor, thereby allowing clonal expansion of responding peptide-specific CD4+ and CD8+ T cells. HLA likewise forms an integral part of the innate immune response through the binding of killer-cell immunoglobulin-like receptor (KIR) molecules, which regulate the response of natural killer (NK) cells. The HLA complex is found on the short arm of chromosome 6 and is the most polymorphic region in the human genome. Africans are genetically more diverse than other populations; however, information on HLA diversity among southern Africans, including South African populations, is limited. Paucity of African HLA data limits our understanding of disease associations, the ability to identify donor-recipient matches for transplantation and the development of disease-specific vaccines. This review discusses the importance of HLA in the clinical setting in South Africans and highlights how tools such as HLA imputation might augment standard HLA typing methods to increase our understanding of HLA diversity in our populations, which will better inform disease association studies, donor recruitment strategies into bone marrow registries and our understanding of human genetic diversity in South Africa.


Authors' affiliations

J Mellet, Institute for Cellular and Molecular Medicine, Department of Immunology, and SAMRC Extramural Unit for Stem Cell Research and Therapy, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Pretoria, South Africa

M Tshabalala, Institute for Cellular and Molecular Medicine, Department of Immunology, and SAMRC Extramural Unit for Stem Cell Research and Therapy, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Pretoria, South Africa

O Agbedare, Institute for Cellular and Molecular Medicine, Department of Immunology, and SAMRC Extramural Unit for Stem Cell Research and Therapy, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Pretoria, South Africa

PWA Meyer, Department of Immunology, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Pretoria, and National Health Laboratory Services, Pretoria, South Africa

C M Gray, Division of Immunology, Institute of Infectious Diseases and Molecular Medicine, and Department of Pathology, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Cape Town, South Africa; Laboratory for Tissue Immunology, National Health Laboratory Services, Groote Schuur Hospital, Cape Town, South Africa

M S Pepper, Institute for Cellular and Molecular Medicine, Department of Immunology, and SAMRC Extramural Unit for Stem Cell Research and Therapy, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Pretoria, South Africa

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Cite this article

South African Medical Journal 2019;109(8b):29-34. DOI:10.7196/SAMJ.2019.v109i8b.13825

Article History

Date submitted: 2019-09-10
Date published: 2019-09-10

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