Major Histocompatibility Complex

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Major histocompatibility complex (MHC) is a cell surface molecule encoded by a large gene family in all vertebrates. MHC molecules mediate interactions of leukocytes, also called white blood cells (WBCs), which are immune cells, with other leukocytes or body cells. MHC determines compatibility of donors for organ transplant as well as one's susceptibility to an autoimmune disease via crossreacting immunization. In humans, MHC is also called human leukocyte antigen (HLA).

Protein molecules—either of the host's own phenotype or of other biologic entities—are continually synthesized and degraded in a cell. Occurring on the cell surface, each MHC molecule displays a molecular fraction, called epitope, of a protein, somewhat like a hot dog (epitope) within a bun (MHC). The presented antigen can be either self or nonself. On the cell membrane, the MHC population in its entirety is like a meter indicating the balance of proteins within the cell.

The MHC gene family is divided into three subgroups—class I, class II, and class III. Diversity of antigen presentation, mediated by MHC classes I and II, is attained in multiple ways: (1) the MHC's genetic encoding is polygenic, (2) MHC genes are highly polymorphic and have many variants, (3) several MHC genes are expressed from both inherited alleles.

Read more about Major Histocompatibility Complex:  MHC in Animal Immunity, MHC Genes, Antigen Processing and Presentation, T Lymphocyte Recognition Restrictions, MHC in Sexual Mate Selection, MHC Evolutionary Diversity, MHC in Transplant Rejection, HLA Biology

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