Classical class I transplantation antigens present in solution in the body fluids have been studied. These antigens have been found in a monomeric, soluble form in blood, lymph, and urine, and a major source is the hemopoietic system which gives rise to cells that secrete these molecules into the blood. The cell types most probably involved in their secretion are of the macrophage/dendritic cell lineage. The serum molecule is a heterodimer with a heavy chain of 39,000 mol wt associated noncovalently with beta 2-microglobulin and is present in serum at a concentration between 350 and 390 ng/ml. These molecules have a short half-life of 2.7 h and are excreted into the environment via the kidneys in the urine. In the urine, greater than 90% of the molecules are degraded into smaller fragments. This finding that normal metabolic processes lead to the excretion of classical highly polymorphic class I molecules in the urine provides a direct explanation in molecular terms of the ability of animals to identify individuals on the basis of urinary odor. Since intact class I molecules are unlikely to be the odoriferous component in the urine, two hypotheses have been suggested. Either small fragments of class I molecules are detected or the molecule acts as a carrier that transports volatiles from the serum into the urine where they are released, giving rise to the class I-associated odor.

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