In the past year significant progress has been made in the investigation of the function and transcriptional control of human class I major histocompatibility complex (MHC) receptors expressed on natural killer (NK) cells. We have identified and characterized probabilistic transcriptional switches in the human killer cell immunoglobulin-like receptor (KIR) genes, similar to the switches that we described in the murine Ly49 gene family. A series of genetic polymorphisms have been characterized in the human switch elements, and the functional relevance of these polymorphisms has been demonstrated. This discovery has important implications for the control of stem cell differentiation, and may one day allow us to modify cell fate in differentiating systems such as bone marrow cultures. Our work has defined a novel paradigm for the selective activation of genes, and we are the pioneers in this area. My group is also investigating a novel spliced KIR antisense transcript that is controlled by a promoter that appears to be active only in precursor or stem cell populations. This discovery suggests that specific silencing RNA is generated to prevent expression of the KIR genes in precursor cells or non-NK lineages. Although the primary mechanism of stochastic decision-making by the KIR/Ly49 probabilistic switches is similar, the mechanism of KIR gene activation/silencing appears to be distinct from the Ly49 system. The KIR switch is positioned adjacent to the coding region, whereas the Ly49 switches are located further upstream. This arrangement leads to the production of double-stranded RNA (dsRNA) in the KIR proximal promoter region if the probabilistic switch is transcribing in the reverse direction, since the antisense transcripts overlap with distal forward KIR transcripts that are present throughout NK development. The possibility that siRNAs could be processed from the dsRNA prompted us to look for small RNAs derived from the KIR dsRNA region. We discovered a 28 base antisense RNA originating from the promoter region with properties similar to the piRNAs that have been associated with gene silencing in germ cells. In collaboration with Dr. Jeff Millers lab at the University of Minnesota, we have demonstrated a central role for the 28 base antisense RNA in KIR gene silencing, using the in vitro NK cell differentiation system developed by Dr. Miller. Current research and future plans include: investigation of the mechanism of action of the 28 base RNA;dissecting the role of distal and proximal sense/antisense promoters using BAC transgenes;analysis of KIR promoter polymorphisms and their association with the frequency of gene expression;designing reagents to control KIR gene activation for potential use in the clinic.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Cancer Institute (NCI)
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National Cancer Institute Division of Basic Sciences
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Freund, Jacquelyn; May, Rebecca M; Yang, Enjun et al. (2016) Activating Receptor Signals Drive Receptor Diversity in Developing Natural Killer Cells. PLoS Biol 14:e1002526
Li, H; Wright, P W; McCullen, M et al. (2016) Characterization of KIR intermediate promoters reveals four promoter types associated with distinct expression patterns of KIR subtypes. Genes Immun 17:66-74
Felices, Martin; Lenvik, Todd R; Ankarlo, Dave E M et al. (2014) Functional NK cell repertoires are maintained through IL-2R? and Fas ligand. J Immunol 192:3889-97
Anderson, Stephen K (2014) Probabilistic bidirectional promoter switches: noncoding RNA takes control. Mol Ther Nucleic Acids 3:e191
Cichocki, Frank; Schlums, Heinrich; Li, Hongchuan et al. (2014) Transcriptional regulation of Munc13-4 expression in cytotoxic lymphocytes is disrupted by an intronic mutation associated with a primary immunodeficiency. J Exp Med 211:1079-91
Wright, P W; Li, H; Huehn, A et al. (2014) Characterization of a weakly expressed KIR2DL1 variant reveals a novel upstream promoter that controls KIR expression. Genes Immun 15:440-8
O'Connor, Geraldine M; Vivian, Julian P; Widjaja, Jacqueline M et al. (2014) Mutational and structural analysis of KIR3DL1 reveals a lineage-defining allotypic dimorphism that impacts both HLA and peptide sensitivity. J Immunol 192:2875-84
Cichocki, Frank; Miller, Jeffrey S; Anderson, Stephen K et al. (2013) Epigenetic regulation of NK cell differentiation and effector functions. Front Immunol 4:55
Wright, P W; Huehn, A; Cichocki, F et al. (2013) Identification of a KIR antisense lncRNA expressed by progenitor cells. Genes Immun 14:427-33
Barao, Isabel; Wright, Paul W; Sungur, Can M et al. (2013) Differential expression of the Ly49G(B6), but not the Ly49G(BALB), receptor isoform during natural killer cell reconstitution after hematopoietic stem cell transplantation. Biol Blood Marrow Transplant 19:1446-52

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