Distribution of HLA-B27 subtypes in patients with ankylosing spondylitis: the disease is associated with a common determinant of the various B27 molecules.
HLA-B27 subtypes can be defined by cellular, serological, and biochemical techniques. The seven subtypes so far identified represent structural variants of B27 with limited variations in the amino acid sequence of the B27 molecule. The routinely typed B27 'antigen' remains a common (shared, public) determinant present on various B27 molecules. The distribution of the subtypes varies strongly among different ethnic groups and they occur in different linkage disequilibria. In the healthy Dutch population only two subtypes were found: B27W (B27 X 1, B27M2+) (90%) and B27K (B27 X 2, B27M2-) (10%). A similar distribution of B27 subtypes was observed in 91 unrelated Dutch patients with ankylosing spondylitis (AS)--namely, 92% B27W and 8% B27K. In Oriental populations the subtype distribution is quite different: B27W occurs in less than 50%, whereas more than 50% individuals are of the B27C and B27D subtypes. Preliminary data indicate that the distribution of subtypes in healthy and diseased Oriental individuals is similar. These results suggest that the B27 and disease (AS) association is not correlated with the structural variations of one of the B27 subtypes, but with a common B27 determinant shared by various B27 subtypes. Consequently, the disease is older than the B27 variants. Further studies on disease and subtype distribution in various ethnic groups might contribute to a better understanding of the origin of both.