Differentiation between African populations is evidenced by the diversity of alleles and haplotypes of HLA class I loci

UMMS Affiliation

Department of Quantitative Health Sciences; Department of Pediatrics



Document Type


Medical Subject Headings

Africa South of the Sahara; *Alleles; DNA Probes, HLA; Gene Frequency; Genes, MHC Class I; Genetic Variation; *Genetics, Population; Haplotypes; Histocompatibility Testing; Humans; Linkage Disequilibrium; Polymorphism, Genetic


Biostatistics | Epidemiology | Health Services Research | Immunology and Infectious Disease


The allelic and haplotypic diversity of the HLA-A, HLA-B, and HLA-C loci was investigated in 852 subjects from five sub-Saharan populations from Kenya (Nandi and Luo), Mali (Dogon), Uganda, and Zambia. Distributions of genotypes at all loci and in all populations fit Hardy-Weinberg equilibrium expectations. There was not a single allele predominant at any of the loci in these populations, with the exception of A*3002 [allele frequency (AF) = 0.233] in Zambians and Cw*1601 (AF = 0.283) in Malians. This distribution was consistent with balancing selection for all class I loci in all populations, which was evidenced by the homozygosity F statistic that was less than that expected under neutrality. Only in the A locus in Zambians and the C locus in Malians, the AF distribution was very close to neutrality expectations. There were six instances in which there were significant deviations of allele distributions from neutrality in the direction of balancing selection. All allelic lineages from each of the class I loci were found in all the African populations. Several alleles of these loci have intermediate frequencies (AF = 0.020-0.150) and seem to appear only in the African populations. Most of these alleles are widely distributed in the African continent and their origin may predate the separation of linguistic groups. In contrast to native American and other populations, the African populations do not seem to show extensive allelic diversification within lineages, with the exception of the groups of alleles A*02, A*30, B*57, and B*58. The alleles of human leukocyte antigen (HLA)-B are in strong linkage disequilibrium (LD) with alleles of the C locus, and the sets of B/C haplotypes are found in several populations. The associations between A alleles with C-blocks are weaker, and only a few A/B/C haplotypes (A*0201-B*4501-Cw*1601; A*2301-B*1503-Cw*0202; A*7401-B* 1503-Cw*0202; A*2902-B*4201-Cw*1701; A*3001-B*4201-Cw*1701; and A*3601-B*5301-Cw*0401) are found in multiple populations with intermediate frequencies [haplotype frequency (HF) = 0.010-0.100]. The strength of the LD associations between alleles of HLA-A and HLA-B loci and those of HLA-B and HLA-C loci was on average of the same or higher magnitude as those observed in other non-African populations for the same pairs of loci. Comparison of the genetic distances measured by the distribution of alleles at the HLA class I loci in the sub-Saharan populations included in this and other studies indicate that the Luo population from western Kenya has the closest distance with virtually all sub-Saharan population so far studied for HLA-A, a finding consistent with the putative origin of modern humans in East Africa. In all African populations, the genetic distances between each other are greater than those observed between European populations. The remarkable current allelic and haplotypic diversity in the HLA system as well as their variable distribution in different sub-Saharan populations is probably the result of evolutionary forces and environments that have acted on each individual population or in their ancestors. In this regard, the genetic diversity of the HLA system in African populations poses practical challenges for the design of T-cell vaccines and for the transplantation medical community to find HLA-matched unrelated donors for patients in need of an allogeneic transplant.

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Citation: Tissue Antigens. 2004 Apr;63(4):293-325. Link to article on publisher's site

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Link to Article in PubMed