The unconventional role of HLA-E: The road less traveled

Emma J. Grant, Andrea T. Nguyen, Christian A. Lobos, Christopher Szeto, Demetra S.M. Chatzileontiadou, Stephanie Gras

Research output: Contribution to journalReview ArticleResearchpeer-review

35 Citations (Scopus)


Histocompatibility Leukocyte Antigens, or HLAs, are one of the most polymorphic molecules in humans. This high degree of polymorphism endows HLA molecules with the ability to present a vast array of peptides, an essential trait for responding to ever-evolving pathogens. Unlike classical HLA molecules (HLA-Ia), some non-classical HLA-Ib molecules, including HLA-E, are almost monomorphic. Several studies show HLA-E can present self-peptides originating from the leader sequence of other HLA molecules, which signals to our immune system that the cell is healthy. Therefore, it was traditionally thought that the chief role of HLA-E in the body was in immune surveillance. However, there is emerging evidence that HLA-E is also able to present pathogen-derived peptides to the adaptive immune system, namely T cells, in a manner that is similar to classical HLA-Ia molecules. Here we describe the early findings of this less conventional role of HLA-E in the adaptive immune system and its importance for immunity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)101-112
Number of pages12
JournalMolecular Immunology
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2020


  • CD8+
  • HLA-E
  • HLA-I
  • NK cell
  • T cell
  • Viral immunity

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