US11 and US2 encode gene products expressed early in the replicative cycle of human cytomegalovirus (HCMV), which cause dislocation of human and murine major histocompatibility complex (MHC) class I molecules from the lumen of the endoplasmic reticulum to the cytosol, where the class I heavy chains are rapidly degraded. Human histocompatibility leukocyte antigens (HLA)-C and HLA-G are uniquely resistant to the effects of both US11 and US2 in a human trophoblast cell line as well as in porcine endothelial cells stably transfected with human class I genes. Dislocation and degradation of MHC class I heavy chains do not appear to involve cell type–specific factors, as US11 and US2 are fully active in this xenogeneic model. Importantly, trophoblasts HLA-G and HLA-C possess unique characteristics that allow their escape from HCMV-associated MHC class I degradation. Trophoblast class I molecules could serve not only to block recognition by natural killer cells, but also to guide virus-specific HLA-C– and possibly HLA-G–restricted cytotoxic T-lymphocytes to their targets
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