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This article is the author’s final published version in Biomolecules, Volume 13, Issue 8, July 2023, Article number 1178.

The published version is available at Copyright © 2023 by the authors.


Cell surface HLA-I molecules (Face-1) consist of a polypeptide heavy chain (HC) with two groove domains (G domain) and one constant domain (C-domain) as well as a light chain, B2-microglobulin (B2m). However, HCs can also independently emerge unfolded on the cell surface without peptides as B2m-free HC monomers (Face-2), B2m-free HC homodimers (Face 3), and B2m-free HC heterodimers (Face-4). The transport of these HLA variants from ER to the cell surface was confirmed by antiviral antibiotics that arrest the release of newly synthesized proteins from the ER. Face-2 occurs at low levels on the normal cell surface of the lung, bronchi, epidermis, esophagus, breast, stomach, ilium, colorectum, gall bladder, urinary bladder, seminal vesicles ovarian epithelia, endometrium, thymus, spleen, and lymphocytes. They are upregulated on immune cells upon activation by proinflammatory cytokines, anti-CD3 antibodies, antibiotics (e.g., ionomycin), phytohemagglutinin, retinoic acid, and phorbol myristate acetate. Their density on the cell surface remains high as long as the cells remain in an activated state. After activation-induced upregulation, the Face-2 molecules undergo homo- and hetero-dimerization (Face-3 and Face-4). Alterations in the redox environment promote dimerization. Heterodimerization can occur among and between the alleles of different haplotypes. The glycosylation of these variants differ from that of Face-1, and they may occur with bound exogenous peptides. Spontaneous arthritis occurs in HLA-B27+ mice lacking B2m (HLA-B27+ B2m-/-) but not in HLA-B27+ B2m+/- mice. The mice with HLA-B27 in Face-2 spontaneous configuration develop symptoms such as changes in nails and joints, hair loss, and swelling in paws, leading to ankyloses. Anti-HC-specific mAbs delay disease development. Some HLA-I polyreactive mAbs (MEM series) used for immunostaining confirm the existence of B2m-free variants in several cancer cells. The upregulation of Face-2 in human cancers occurs concomitantly with the downregulation of intact HLAs (Face-1). The HLA monomeric and dimeric variants interact with inhibitory and activating ligands (e.g., KIR), growth factors, cytokines, and neurotransmitters. Similarities in the amino acid sequences of the HLA-I variants and HLA-II β-chain suggest that Face-2 could be the progenitor of both HLA classes. These findings may support the recognition of these variants as a neo-HLA class and proto-HLA.