Remarkably Low KIR and HLA Diversity in Amerindians Reveals Signatures of Strong Purifying Selection Shaping the Centromeric KIR Region

Luciana De Brito Vargas, Marcia H. Beltrame, Brenda Ho, Wesley M. Marin, Ravi Dandekar, Gonzalo Montero-Martín, Marcelo A. Fernández-Viña, A. Magdalena Hurtado, Kim R. Hill, Luiza T. Tsuneto, Mara H. Hutz, Francisco M. Salzano, Maria Luiza Petzl-Erler, Jill A. Hollenbach, Danillo G. Augusto

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


The killer-cell immunoglobulin-like receptors (KIR) recognize human leukocyte antigen (HLA) molecules to regulate the cytotoxic and inflammatory responses of natural killer cells. KIR genes are encoded by a rapidly evolving gene family on chromosome 19 and present an unusual variation of presence and absence of genes and high allelic diversity. Although many studies have associated KIR polymorphism with susceptibility to several diseases over the last decades, the high-resolution allele-level haplotypes have only recently started to be described in populations. Here, we use a highly innovative custom next-generation sequencing method that provides a state-of-art characterization of KIR and HLA diversity in 706 individuals from eight unique South American populations: five Amerindian populations from Brazil (three Guarani and two Kaingang); one Amerindian population from Paraguay (Aché); and two urban populations from Southern Brazil (European and Japanese descendants from Curitiba). For the first time, we describe complete high-resolution KIR haplotypes in South American populations, exploring copy number, linkage disequilibrium, and KIR-HLA interactions. We show that all Amerindians analyzed to date exhibit the lowest numbers of KIR-HLA interactions among all described worldwide populations, and that 83-97% of their KIR-HLA interactions rely on a few HLA-C molecules. Using multiple approaches, we found signatures of strong purifying selection on the KIR centromeric region, which codes for the strongest NK cell educator receptors, possibly driven by the limited HLA diversity in these populations. Our study expands the current knowledge of KIR genetic diversity in populations to understand KIR-HLA coevolution and its impact on human health and survival.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbermsab298
JournalMolecular biology and evolution
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2022


  • evolution
  • high resolution
  • human leukocyte antigen
  • killer-cell immunoglobulin-like receptor
  • population

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics


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