A frequent nonsense mutation in exon 1 across certain HLA-A and -B alleles in leukocytes of patients with acquired aplastic anemia.

Leukocytes that lack HLA allelic expression are frequently detected in patients with acquired aplastic anemia (AA) who respond to immunosuppressive therapy (IST), although the exact mechanisms underlying the HLA loss and HLA allele repertoire likely to acquire loss-of-function mutations are unknown. We identified a common nonsense mutation at position 19 (c.19C>T, p.R7X) in exon 1 (Exon1mut ) of different HLA-A and -B alleles in HLA-lacking granulocytes from AA patients. A droplet digital PCR (ddPCR) assay capable of detecting as few as 0.07% Exon1mut HLA alleles in total DNA revealed the mutation was present in 29% (101/353) of AA patients, with a median allele frequency of 0.42% (range, 0.071% to 21.3%). Exon1mut occurred in only 12 different HLA-A (n=4) and HLA-B (n=8) alleles, including B*40:02 (n=31) and A*02:06 (n=15), which correspond to 4 HLA supertypes (A02, A03, B07, and B44). The percentages of patients who possessed at least one of these 12 HLA alleles were significantly higher in the 353 AA patients (92%, P<0.001) and in 83 AA patients with copy number neutral loss of heterozygosity in chromosome 6p (6pLOH) (100%, P<0.001) than that (81%) in 18,604 Japanese healthy individuals. 82% (37/45) of AA patients with Exon1mut responded to IST. Small populations of leukocytes that lack particular HLA-A or B alleles due to Exon1mut are common in AA patients. The detection of Exon1mut using the ddPCR assay without the need for HLA typing may serve as a powerful tool for diagnosing the immune pathophysiology of patients with bone marrow failure.

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