Four monoclonal antibodies, SBU.II 28-1, 37-68, 38-27, and 42-20, each recognizing a distinct, non-overlapping subset of sheep class II molecules, were used to purify class II molecules from a single sheep. Four class II alpha subunits designated 28-1 alpha, 37-68 alpha, 42-20 alpha, and 38-27 alpha and five class II beta subunits designated 28-1 beta, 37-68 beta 1, 37-68 beta 2, 42-20 beta, and 38-27 beta were compared by N-terminal sequence analyses. Two distinct alpha subunits were identified; the 28-1 alpha, 37-68 alpha, and 42-20 alpha subunits all had identical N-terminal amino acids sequences, which exhibited about 75% homology with HLA-DR alpha and mouse E alpha polypeptides. In contrast, the 38-27 alpha sequence exhibited about 80% sequence homology with HLA-DQ alpha and mouse A alpha polypeptides. In general, sheep beta subunits displayed insufficient sequence homology to enable correlation with human beta-chain sequences; however, the 38-27 beta-chain sequence showed homology with the HLA-DQ beta sequence. The conserved sequence surrounding the site for N-linked glycosylation within human/mouse beta polypeptides (residues 19 to 21) was not present in sheep beta sequences and in contrast with the beta-chains of mouse and man, sheep beta polypeptides contained between 1 and 3 positionally variable cysteine residues (residues 13 to 15 inclusive). Individual sheep beta subunits exhibited extensive sequence heterogeneity and each consisted of a unique population of beta polypeptide species. At least 16 different beta polypeptide sequences were identified from a single sheep and the existence of no fewer than nine non-allelic beta genes was inferred from the sequence data. We have previously provided evidence suggesting that the sheep has multiple major histocompatibility complex class II alpha and beta genes related to those of all three HLA-D subregions. The present results suggest that a number of these genes encode HLA-DQ-like heterodimers and that a sheep DR-like alpha gene product is shared with the products of a large and heterogeneous sheep beta gene family.

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