Expression and alternative splicing of classical and nonclassical MHCI genes in the hippocampus and neuromuscular junction.
The major histocompatibility complex class I (MHCI) is a large gene family, with over 20 members in mouse. Some MHCIs are well-known for their critical roles in the immune response. Studies in mice which lack stable cell-surface expression of many MHCI proteins suggest that one or more MHCIs also play unexpected, essential roles in the establishment, function, and modification of neuronal synapses. However, there is little information about which genes mediate MHCI's effects in neurons. In this study, RT-PCR was used to simultaneously assess transcription of many MHCI genes in regions of the central and peripheral nervous system where MHCI has a known or suspected role. In the hippocampus, a part of the CNS where MHCI regulates synapse density, synaptic transmission, and plasticity, we found that more than a dozen MHCI genes are transcribed. Single-cell RT-PCR revealed that individual hippocampal neurons can express more than one MHCI gene, and that the MHCI gene expression profile of CA1 pyramidal neurons differs significantly from that of CA3 pyramidal neurons or granule cells of the dentate gyrus. MHCI gene expression was also assessed at the neuromuscular junction (NMJ), a part of the peripheral nervous system (PNS) where MHCI plays a role in developmental synapse elimination, aging-related synapse loss, and neuronal regeneration. Four MHCI genes are expressed at the NMJ at an age when synapse elimination is occurring in three different muscles. Several MHCI mRNA splice variants were detected in hippocampus, but not at the NMJ. Together, these results establish the first profile of MHCI gene expression at the developing NMJ, and demonstrate that MHCI gene expression is under tight spatial and temporal regulation in the nervous system. They also identify more than a dozen MHCIs that could play important roles in regulating synaptic transmission and plasticity in the central and peripheral nervous systems.