A large case-control study of malaria in West African children shows that a human leucocyte class I antigen (HLA-Bw53) and an HLA class II haplotype (DRB1*1302-DQB1*0501), common in West Africans but rare in other racial groups, are independently associated with protection from severe malaria. In this population they account for as great a reduction in disease incidence as the sickle-cell haemoglobin variant. These data support the hypothesis that the extraordinary polymorphism of major histocompatibility complex genes has evolved primarily through natural selection by infectious pathogens.
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