New technology for cracking DNA codes

23 Feb 2018 | Back to News, Publications and Annual Reports

BPRC researchers have applied a fast and effective method to crack the code of so-called KIRs, which constitutes a major milestone in our exploration of the vital processes taking place in our bodies.

We hope this new knowledge will help us gain a better understanding of diseases affected by KIRs. (KIR is short for ‘killer-cell immunoglobin-like receptors’.) KIRs occur in both human and non-human primates, but are different in rodents.

The army is ready for attack

KIR proteins play a major part in our immune system, which is sometimes referred to as the body's army – an army ready to attack and eliminate unwelcome intruders. It is crucial that this army be able to distinguish between cells from the person's own body and external cells (e.g. pathogens). After all, our immune system should not attack our own body, or the unborn child we may carry. A highly complex system of proteins allows the body to make those distinctions.

Complex family relations

These proteins may interact with each other in a way that will provoke the immune system to attack, or conversely, to cause it not to attack. KIR proteins play an important part in these interactions. Unfortunately, it is very hard for scientists to map out the DNA codes (genes) for all components of this KIR family. You see, these genes do not just occur in various quantities, but in many different forms, too. In other words, they are a rather complex family, but we are getting closer and closer to cracking the codes.

New codes discovered

BPRC researchers have recently administered a new technology to rhesus macaques, whose KIRs are also highly complex. Thanks to this new technology, they can now decipher these complex codes faster and more precisely than ever before, which has resulted in the discovery of some new, previously unknown KIR codes. This shows just how dynamic the system is, as you can read for yourself in this scholarly article in the Journal of Immunology.

This new information has helped us get a better understanding of diseases affected by KIRs. We also hope it will give us a better understanding of how the immune system responds to transplants and reproductive processes.