We have recently shown that the human antibody response to the hepatitis B virus surface antigen (HBsAg) vaccine is major histocompatibility complex (MHC) associated. In studies of nonresponders to the vaccine, we found an increased incidence of individuals homozygous for human histocompatibility leukocyte antigen (HLA) proteins associated with the extended (conserved) haplotype [HLA-B8,SC01,DR3]. In later prospective vaccination trials, we showed that none of five individuals homozygous for this haplotype developed more than 1,300 radioimmunoassay (RIA) units of antibody (mean, 467 RIA units), while all heterozygotes made at least 2,500 RIA units (mean antibody level, 15,608 units). Our results suggested that [HLA-B8,SC01,DR3] lacks an immune response gene for HBsAg, and that response is inherited in a dominant fashion. To provide further evidence for this hypothesis, we have now analyzed the results of HBsAg immunization in families. 43 members of 10 families were immunized with the hepatitis B vaccine, including seven families where at least one member bore the haplotype [HLA-B8,SC01,DR3], and three families where one member had already received, but failed to respond to, the vaccine. In two of these three families, the presence of [HLA-B8,SC01,DR3] was subsequently found. Of nine MHC-identical sibling pairs in the study, both members of eight pairs had similar antibody responses (five nonresponder and three responder pairs). In all families with such sibling pairs, including the discordant pair, rank-ordering members by antibody level demonstrated that no relative's value came between the sibling pair values. Furthermore, of nine [HLA-B8,SC01,DR3]-haplotype-homozygous individuals, six were nonresponders, and two others had only low-normal responses. [HLA-B8,SC01,DR3]-heterozygous family members always had higher levels of antibody than their homozygous relatives. Linkage analysis of nonresponse to HLA haplotypes revealed a maximum likelihood LOD (logarithm of the odds) score of 6.3 at a recombination fraction of 0.1. The MHC association with lack of antibody response to HBsAg was not seen with tetanus immunization, where 1 of 20 HBsAg responders and 1 of 21 poor or nonresponders had tetanus titers of less than 1:512; both tetanus nonresponders were [HLA-B8,SC01,DR3] heterozygotes. Our results indicate that: (a) response to the HBsAg vaccine is MHC linked, and inherited in a dominant fashion; (b) an abnormal or missing immune response (Ir) gene for HBsAg is a characteristic of most examples of the extended haplotype [HLA-B8,SC01,DR3]; and (c) other haplotypes also have abnormal or missing Ir genes for HBsAg.

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