Killer-cell Ig-like receptors (KIR) are structurally and functionally diverse, and enable human NK cells to survey the expression of individual HLA class I molecules, often altered in infections and tumors. Multiple events of non-reciprocal recombination have contributed to the rapid diversification of KIR. We show that ∼4.5% of the individuals of a Caucasoid population bear a recombinant allele of KIR3DP1, officially designed KIR3DP1*004, that associates tightly with gene duplications of KIR3DP1, KIR2DL4 and KIR3DL1/KIR3DS1. The KIR3DP1 gene is normally silent, but the recombinant allele carries a novel promoter sequence and, as a consequence, is transcribed in all tested individuals. Messenger RNA of KIR3DP1*004 is made up of six exons; of these, exons 1–5 are similar to, and spliced like, those encoding the leader peptide and Ig-domains of KIR3D. By contrast, exon 6 is homologous to no other human KIR sequence, but only to possible homologs in chimpanzees and rhesus macaques, and encodes a short hydrophilic tail. The putative KIR3DP1*004 product, like those of the related genes LAIR-2 and LILRA3/ILT6/LIR4, is predicted to be secreted to the extracellular medium rather than anchored to the cell membrane.
See accompanying Commentary: http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/eji.200425743