This study was designed to identify the target molecules of the natural killer (NK) cell-mediated recognition of normal allogeneic target cells. As previously shown, the gene(s) governing the first NK-defined allospecificity (specificity 1) were found to be localized in the major histocompatibility complex region between BF gene and HLA-A. In addition, the analysis of a previously described family revealed that a donor (donor 81) was heterozygous for three distinct NK-defined allospecificities (specificities 1, 2, and 5). HLA variants were derived from the B-Epstein-Barr virus cell line of donor 81 by gamma irradiation followed by negative selection using monoclonal antibodies specific for the appropriate HLA allele. Several variants were derived that lacked one or more class I antigen expressions. These variants were analyzed for the susceptibility to lysis by NK clones recognizing different allospecificities. The loss of HLA-A did not modify the phenotype (i.e., "resistance to lysis"). On the other hand, a variant lacking expression of all class I antigens became susceptible to lysis by all alloreactive clones. Variants characterized by the selective loss of class I antigens coded for by the maternal chromosome became susceptible to lysis by anti-2-specific clones. Conversely, variants selectively lacking class I antigens coded for by paternal chromosome became susceptible to lysis by anti-1 and anti-5 clones (but not by anti-2 clones). Since the Cw3 allele was lost in the variant that acquired susceptibility to lysis by anti-2 clones and, in informative families, it was found to cosegregate with the character "resistance to lysis" by anti-2 clones, we analyzed whether Cw3 could represent the element conferring selective resistance to lysis by anti-2 clones. To this end, murine P815 cells transfected with HLA Cw3 (or with other HLA class I genes) were used as target cells in a cytolytic assay in which effector cells were represented by alloreactive NK clones directed against different specificities. Anti-2-specific clones efficiently lysed untransfected or A2-, A3-, and A24-transfected P815 cells, while they failed to lyse Cw3-transfected cells. NK clones recognizing specificities other than specificity 2 lysed untransfected or Cw3-transfected cells. Thus, the loss of Cw3 resulted in the de novo appearance of susceptibility to lysis, and transfection of the HLA-negative P815 cells with Cw3 resulted in resistance to lysis by anti-2 clones. Therefore, we can infer that Cw3 expression on (both human and murine) target cells confers selective protection from lysis mediated by anti-2 NK clones.

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