Point mutations that affect HLA-DR structure or expression have not previously been described. In the present study, we isolated such mutants by immunoselection of an ethyl methanesulfonate-mutagenized HLA-DR3 cell line with an anti-HLA-DR3 monoclonal antibody, 16.23. To facilitate analysis, we used a parent cell line with a preexisting deletion of one haplotype encompassing DR and DQ alpha and beta. The selection yielded two sets of mutants, one with defects in DR3 structure, the other with defects in different steps leading to DR expression. Of the expression-defective mutants, one had undergone a second deletion removing the remaining DR alpha gene but no other class II genes. It had a normal abundance of DR beta mRNA but had lost binding of DR monomorphic antibodies, indicating that DR beta chains do not form noncognate dimers. A second mutant had an abnormally large DR alpha mRNA, probably resulting from a splice site mutation. Several mutants had marked reductions in DR beta mRNA levels; in two of these, the lesion appeared to be transcriptional because the reduction in DR beta mRNA was paralleled by an altered methylation pattern of one of the DR beta genes. Other expression-defective mutants had different posttranscriptional defects. Some of the mutations were similar to those that have been found in mouse strains defective in I-E expression, whereas others have no known natural counterpart. The matrix of reactivities of anti-HLA class II monomorphic antibodies with these and similar mutants allowed us to define the gene products recognized by these antibodies. A set of seven mutants were "epitope defective," that is, they expressed normal or near normal levels of HLA-DR3 but no longer bound 16.23. Unexpectedly, each of the epitope mutants had decreased DR dimer stability. These mutants should be useful in localizing the DR3 alloepitope and in elucidating its contribution as a restriction element in the presentation of soluble antigen to immune T cells.

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