, Volume 63, Issue 11, pp 691-701,
Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.
Date: 22 Jun 2011

HLA class I allele promiscuity revisited


The peptide repertoire presented on human leukocyte antigen (HLA) class I molecules is largely determined by the structure of the peptide binding groove. It is expected that the molecules having similar grooves (i.e., belonging to the same supertype) might present similar/overlapping peptides. However, the extent of promiscuity among HLA class I ligands remains controversial: while in many studies T cell responses are detected against epitopes presented by alternative molecules across HLA class I supertypes and loci, peptide elution studies report minute overlaps between the peptide repertoires of even related HLA molecules. To get more insight into the promiscuous peptide binding by HLA molecules, we analyzed the HLA peptide binding data from the large epitope repository, Immune Epitope Database (IEDB), and further performed in silico analysis to estimate the promiscuity at the population level. Both analyses suggest that an unexpectedly large fraction of HLA ligands (>50%) bind two or more HLA molecules, often across supertype or even loci. These results suggest that different HLA class I molecules can nevertheless present largely overlapping peptide sets, and that “functional” HLA polymorphism on individual and population level is probably much lower than previously anticipated.