Background: Malaria is one of the most serious infectious diseases in the world. The malaria burden is greatly affected by human immunity, and immune responses vary between populations. Genetic diversity in KIR and HLA-C genes, which are important in immunity to infectious diseases, is likely to play a role in this heterogeneity. Several studies have shown that KIR and HLA-C genes influence the immune response to viral infections, but few studies have examined the role of KIR and HLA-C in malaria infection, and these have used low-resolution genotyping. Our aim was to determine whether genetic variation in KIR and their HLA-C ligands differ in Ugandan populations with historically varied malaria transmission intensity using more comprehensive genotyping approaches.
Methods: We used high throughput multiplex quantitative real-time PCR method to genotype KIR genetic variants and copy number variation and developed a high-throughput real-time PCR method to genotype HLA-C1 and C2 allotypes for 1,344 participants, aged 6 months to 10 years, enrolled from Ugandan populations with historically high (Tororo District), medium (Jinja District) and low (Kanungu District) malaria transmission intensity.
Results: The prevalence of KIR3DS1, KIR2DL5, KIR2DS5 and KIR2DS1 genes was significantly lower in populations from Kanungu compared to Tororo (7.6% vs. 13.2%: p=0.006, 57.2% vs. 66.4%: p=0.005, 33.2% vs. 46.6%: p<0.001 and 19.7% vs. 26.7%: p=0.014 respectively) or Jinja (7.6% vs.18.1%: p<0.001, 57.2% vs. 63.8%: p=0.048, 33.2% vs. 43.5%: p=0.002 and 19.7% vs. 30.4%: p<0.001 respectively). The prevalence of homozygous HLA-C2 was significantly higher in populations from Kanungu (31.6%) compared to Jinja (21.4%), p=0.043, with no significant difference between Kanungu and Tororo (26.7%), p=0.296.
Conclusions: The KIR3DS1 , KIR2DL5, KIR2DS5 and KIR2DS1 genes are potentially beneficial in malaria as these genes have been positively selected for in places with historically high malaria transmission intensity. The high-throughput multiplex real-time HLA-C genotyping PCR method we have developed will be useful in disease association studies involving large cohorts.