Human natural killer (NK) cells express inhibitory receptors that are specific for different groups of HLA-C or HLA-B alleles. The majority of these receptors belong to the immunoglobulin (Ig) superfamily and are characterized by two or three extracellular Ig-like domains. Here we describe a novel inhibitory NK receptor that is specific for a group of HLA-A alleles. The HLA-A3-specific NK cell clone DP7 has been used for mice immunization. Two mAbs, termed Q66 and Q241, bound to the immunizing clone and stained only a subset of NK cell populations or clones. Among Q66 mAb-reactive clones, we further selected those that did not express any of the previously identified HLA-class I-specific NK receptors. These clones did not lyse HLA-A3+ (or -A11+) target cells, but lysis of these targets could be detected in the presence of Q66 or Q241 mAbs. On the other hand, target cells expressing other HLA-A alleles, including -A1, -A2, and -A24, were efficiently lysed. Moreover, none of the HLA-C or HLA-B alleles that were tested exerted a protective effect. Q66+, but not Q66- NK cell clones, expressed messenger RNA coding for a novel 3 Ig domain protein homologous to the HLA-C (p58) and HLA-B (p70) receptors. The corresponding cDNA (cl.1.1) was used to generate transient and stable transfectants in COS7 and NIH3T3 cell lines, respectively. Both types of transfectants were specifically stained by Q66 and Q241 mAbs. Since the cytoplasmic tail of Q66-reactive molecules was at least 11 amino acid longer than the other known p58/p70 molecules, we could generate an antiserum specific for the COOH-terminus of Q66-reactive molecules, termed PGP-3. PGP-3 immunoprecipitated, only from Q66+ NK cells, molecules displaying a molecular mass of 140 kD, under nonreducing conditions, which resolved, under reducing conditions, in a 70-kD band. Thus, differently from the other p58/p70 receptors, Q66-reactive molecules appear to be expressed as disulphide-linked dimers and were thus termed p140. The comparative analysis of the amino acid sequences of p58, p70, and p140 molecules revealed the existence of two cysteins proximal to the transmembrane region, only in the amino acid sequence of p140 molecules.

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