Recognition of HLA incompatibilities by the immune system represents a major barrier to allogeneic hematopoietic stem cell transplantation. HLA genotypically identical sibling donors are, therefore, the gold standard for transplantation purposes, but only 30% patients have such a donor. For the remaining 70% patients alternative sources of stem cells are a matched unrelated adult volunteer donor, a haploidentical donor or a cord blood unit. The definition of ‘HLA matching’ depends on the level of resolution and on which loci are tested. The development of HLA molecular typing technologies and the availability of more than 27 million donors in the international database has greatly facilitated unrelated donor searches. The gold standard is high resolution typing at the HLA-A, -B, -C, -DRB1, and -DQB1 loci (10/10 match). Single disparities for HLA-A, -B, – C, or -DRB1 are associated with increased risk of post-transplant complications, but less so in patients with advanced disease, and in those undergoing T-cell-depleted allografting. HLA-DQB1 mismatches seem to be better tolerated and some HLA-C, -DRB1 and -DPB1 disparities are potentially less immunogenic. HLA typing by next-generation sequencing methods is likely to change matching algorithms by providing full sequence information on all HLA loci in a single step. In most European populations a 10/10 matched donor can be found for at least 50% of patients and an additional 20-30% patients may have a 9/10 matched donor. Genetic factors that help in identifying donors with less immunogenic mismatches are discussed. Haploidentical donors are increasingly used as an alternative source of stem cells for those patients lacking a matched unrelated donor.
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