The human cytomegalovirus-encoded US2 glycoprotein targets endoplasmic reticulum-resident major histocompatibility complex (MHC) class I heavy chains for rapid degradation by the proteasome. We demonstrate that the endoplasmic reticulum-lumenal domain of US2 allows tight interaction with class I molecules encoded by the HLA-A locus. Recombinant soluble US2 binds properly folded, peptide-containing recombinant HLA-A2 molecules in a peptide sequence-independent manner, consistent with US2's ability to broadly downregulate class I molecules. The physicochemical properties of the US2/MHC class I complex suggest a 1:1 stoichiometry. These results demonstrate that US2 does not require additional cellular proteins to specifically interact with soluble class I molecules. Binding of US2 does not significantly alter the conformation of class I molecules, as a soluble T-cell receptor can simultaneously recognize class I molecules associated with US2. The lumenal domain of US2 can differentiate between the products of distinct class I loci, as US2 binds several HLA-A locus products while being unable to bind recombinant HLA-B7, HLA-B27, HLA-Cw4, or HLA-E. We did not observe interaction between soluble US2 and either recombinant HLA-DR1 or recombinant HLA-DM. The substrate specificity of US2 may help explain the presence in human cytomegalovirus of multiple strategies for downregulation of MHC class I molecules
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