Although the class I MHC receptors expressed by human and mouse natural killer (NK) cells have distinct molecular origins, they are functional analogues that are expressed in a variegated pattern. The murine Ly49 class I receptors contain bidirectional promoters that have been proposed to control the probabilistic expression of these genes. Whether similar elements are present in the human killer Ig-like receptor (KIR) genes is a fundamental question. A detailed analysis of the 2 kb intergenic region separating the KIR2DL4 gene and the adjacent KIR3DL1 gene revealed that additional promoter elements exist in the human KIR genes. Remarkably, the previously characterized KIR3DL1 proximal promoter possesses bidirectional promoter activity that maps to an 88 bp DNA fragment containing CREB, AML, Sp1 and Ets transcription factor binding sites. Individual KIR genes and alleles possess bidirectional promoters with distinct properties. Analysis of KIR+and KIR+ NK cells and NK precursors indicates that reverse transcripts from the bidirectional promoter are found in cells that lack KIR protein expression, but are not present in mature KIR-expressing NK cells, suggesting that reverse transcription from the proximal promoter blocks gene activation in immature NK and precursor cells.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
This project has been funded in whole or in part with federal funds from the National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health, under contract N01-CO-12400. This research was supported in part by the Intramural Research Program of the NIH, National Cancer Institute, Center for Cancer Research. This work was supported in part by NIH grant R01 HL55417 (JS Miller).