Multiple amino acid sequence differences distinguish individual HLA antigens. Those residues important in immune recognition events have not been defined. Recent studies have identified HLA-A2 structural variants that, although serologically indistinguishable from other HLA-A2 antigens, are recognized poorly, if at all, by HLA-A2-restricted, influenza virus-immune, or HLA-A2-specific alloimmune CTL. In this study we utilize double-label tryptic peptide comparisons performed by both reverse-phase HPLC and cation exchange chromatography, in conjunction with conventional and microsequence analysis, to characterize the HLA-A2 heavy chains derived from variant DK1. We detect a single tryptic peptide that distinguishes DK1 HLA-A2 from the predominant HLA-A2 heavy chain species. This peptide spans residues 147 to 157 in the second heavy chain domain, and carries substitutions at positions 149, 152, and 156. Residues in this segment of the polypeptide are also altered in another HLA-A2 variant, as well as one H-2Kb mutant. Thus, this segment appears to be critical in forming determinants important in CTL recognition of class I antigens in general. On the basis of these and other results, we suggest that in contrast to recognition by alloantibodies, a discrete region of class I antigens may be crucial for CTL recognition.

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