Background. MHC class Ia molecules are absent, or expressed at low levels, on cells lining the anterior chamber of the eye, an immune-privileged site. Although the scarcity of class Ia MHC antigens may protect cells from T cell-mediated tissue injury, it may also render them vulnerable to natural killer cell-mediated cytolysis. There is growing evidence that MHC class Ib molecules share similar functions to class Ia. In this study, we examine the expression and distribution of Qa-2, one of the best-characterized murine MHC class Ib molecules in the eye. Methods. The transcription of Qa-2 mRNA in whole eye and eye-derived cells was analyzed by sensitive and specific RNase protection and reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction assays. Immunohistochemistry, flow cytometry, and ELISA were used to determine whether Qa-2 was expressed as cell surface proteins. Expression levels of Qa- 2 were monitored in resting cells and cells stimulated with interferon-γ. Results. Expression of membrane-bound and soluble Qa-2 isoforms was detected in various tissues of the eye, including cell subsets lining the anterior chamber. Immunohistological staining revealed Qa-2 expression on corneal epithelium as well as endothelium, iris ciliary bodies, and retina. These observations were confirmed by analysis of cultured, eye-derived cells. Qa-2 expression was inducible by interferon-γ. Qa-2 was not detected in lens cells. Conclusions. The results demonstrate that membrane-bound and soluble MHC class Ib molecules are expressed by eye cells. Expression of Qa-2 in the corneal endothelium and other substructures lining the anterior chamber suggests that this class Ib protein may contribute to the immune-privileged status of the anterior chamber.
ASJC Scopus subject areas