The two genes for the C4A and C4B isotypes of the fourth component of human complement are located in the MHC class III region. Previous studies have demonstrated the unusual expression of C4 genes in the form of aberrant or duplicated haplotypes. Null alleles of C4A or C4B (AQ0 or BQ0) have been defined by the absence of gene products and occur at frequencies of 0.1-0.3. However, only some C4 null alleles are due to gene deletions, the remainder were thought to be nonexpressed genes. We have analyzed the C4 gene structure of 26 individuals lacking either C4A or C4B protein. The DNA of individuals with apparently nonexpressed C4 genes was tested for the presence of C4A- and C4B-specific sequences using restriction fragment analysis and isotype-specific oligonucleotide hybridization of DNA amplified by polymerase chain reaction. All nondeleted AQ0 allels had C4A-specific sequences and may thus be described as pseudogenes, whereas the nondeleted BQ0 alleles had C4A-instead of C4B-specific sequences. Gene conversion is the probable mechanism by which a C4A gene is found at the second C4 locus normally occupied by C4B genes.

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