November 5, 2010
Human-Specific Evolution In Battling Bugs And Building Babies
Although human and chimpanzee immune systems have many identical components, this is not the case for the family of killer cell immunoglobulin-like receptors (KIR) controlling white blood cells known as natural killer (NK) cells. Published in the open-access journal PloS Genetics on November 4, a paper by Stanford University researchers describes qualitative KIR differences, acquired after humans and chimpanzees separated 6 million years ago and mainly a consequence of innovation in the human line. These differences open up an exciting avenue for explaining the differential susceptibility of humans and chimpanzees to devastating infectious diseases such as HIV/AIDS and malaria.
While immunological research has increasingly concentrated on the inbred laboratory mouse for the last half century, mice actually represent a poor model for human KIR because their NK cell receptors are so disparate from the simian primate counterparts. As a result, the researchers looked at chimpanzee KIR so that they could accurately compare them with the well-characterized human versions.
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