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Allelic association with ankylosing spondylitis fails to correlate with human leukocyte antigen B27 homodimer formation.

Expression of human leukocyte antigen (HLA)-B27 is strongly associated with predisposition towards ankylosing spondylitis (AS) and other spondyloarthropathies. However, the exact involvement of HLA-B27 in disease initiation and progression remains unclear. The homodimer theory, which proposes that HLA-B27 heavy chains aberrantly form homodimers, is a central hypothesis that attempts to explain the role of HLA-B27 in disease pathogenesis. Here we examined the ability of the 8 most prevalent HLA-B27 allotypes (HLA-B*27:02 - HLA-B*27:09) to form homodimers. We observed that HLA-B*27:03, a disease-associated HLA-B27 subtype, showed a significantly reduced ability to form homodimers in comparison to all other allotypes, including the non-disease-associated/protective allotypes HLA-B*27:06 and HLA-B*27:09. We used X-ray crystallography and site-directed mutagenesis to unravel the molecular and structural mechanisms in HLA-B*27:03 that are responsible for its compromised ability to form homodimers. We show that polymorphism at position-59, which differentiates HLA-B*27:03 from all other allotypes, is responsible for its compromised ability to form homodimers. Indeed, histidine-59 in HLA-B*27:03 leads to a series of local conformational changes that act in concert to reduce the accessibility of the nearby cysteine-67, an essential amino acid residue for the formation of HLA-B27 homodimers. Considered together, the ability of both protective and disease-associated HLA-B27 allotypes to form homodimers and the failure of HLA-B*27:03 to form homodimers challenge the role of HLA-B27 homodimers in AS pathoetiology. Rather, this work implicates other features such as peptide binding and antigen presentation as pivotal mechanisms for disease pathogenesis.

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