Introduction: MHC/KIR and governance of specificity

09 Aug 2017

The MHC controls specificity, to ensure that appropriate immune responses are mounted to invading pathogens whilst maintaining tolerance to the host. It encodes molecules that act as sentinels, providing a snapshot of the health of the interior and exterior of the cell for immune surveillance. To maintain the ability to respond appropriately to any disease requires a delicate balance of expression and function, and many subtleties of the system have been described at the gene, individual and population level. The main players are the highly polymorphic classical MHC class I and class II molecules, as well as some non-classical loci of both types. Transporter associated with antigen processing (TAP) peptide transporters, proteasome components and Tapasin, encoded within the MHC, are also involved in selection of peptide for presentation. The plethora of mechanisms microorganisms use to subvert immune recognition, through blocking these antigen processing and presentation pathways, attests to the importance of HLA in resistance to infection. There is continued interest in MHC genetics in its own right, as well as in relation to KIR, to transplantation, infection, autoimmunity and reproduction. Also of topical interest, cancer immunotherapy through checkpoint inhibition depends on highly specific recognition of cancer peptide antigen and continued expression of HLA molecules. Here, we briefly introduce some background to the MHC/KIR axis in man. This special issue of immunogenetics expands on these topics, in humans and other model species.