, Volume 27, Issue 3, pp 203-210

Biochemical complexity of serum HLA class I molecules

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Human serum was found to contain a variety of class I-like molecules by Western blotting with anti-class I heavy chain reagents: major bands usually are observed around M r 44 000, 40 000, and 35 000–37 000. HLA-A24-positive individuals are distinguished by higher serum levels of M r 44 000 and 40 000 class I-like molecules than those found in HLA-A24-negative individuals. The M r 44 000 serum molecules are probably intact class I molecules that have been shed from the cell membrane, because they contain both a transmembrane segment (TM), as deduced from detergent-binding experiments, and a cytoplasmic tail (CT), as inferred from reactivity with an antipeptide serum specific for the cytoplasmic domain of class I antigens (RaCT). The M r 35 000 and 37 000 molecules contain neither a TM nor a CT region and therefore are probably proteolytic breakdown products of cellular and/or serum M r 44 000 molecules, although the existence of Q10-like molecules in man cannot be ruled out. The M r 40 000 molecules do not contain a TM region. M r 40 000 molecules reactive with the RaCT serum were found in the minority (2/13) of sera tested. We conclude that alternative splicing resulting in a precise excision of the TM exon plays a minor role in the generation of serum HLA class I antigens.