A paper authored by members of the MHC sequencing consortium is scheduled for the Oct. 28 issue of the journal Nature.
The paper describes the genomic sequence of the major histocompatibility complex (MHC), a region on chromosome 6 essential to the immune system. The MHC controls many activities of the immune cells, including the transplantation rejection process and the killing of virus-infected cells by specific killer T lymphocytes. This region harbors several disease associations and the variability in this region between donor and recipient is a critical factor in marrow transplant matching.
This is the first complete sequence and gene map of the MHC. This information will enable researchers to identify the positions of genes on this important segment of the human genome, helping to understand the origin of many common diseases.
In the immediate future, the sequence provides a vital tool towards improved diagnosis of disease and choice of marrow transplant recipient, by providing information that will allow us to much more accurately relate genetic variability among people to their potential for developing a large number of disease susceptibilities. This should allow for more immediate and precise diagnosis.
"This new knowledge should rapidly lead to straightforward and accurate diagnostic tests based on actual gene sequences. This should make it easier for doctors to influence the progression of some diseases by giving lifestyle advice," said Daniel Geraghty, co-author of the paper.
In the longer term, understanding the structure of disease susceptibility genes may lead to more effective treatments of existing disease. In addition to being critical in the marrow transplant process, the MHC has a large number and variety of disease associations, and thus the scope of this advance would have the potential for a broad impact on human health.