Fetal nucleated erythrocytes (NRBC) in maternal blood are a non-invasive source of fetal DNA for prenatal genetic screening. We compared the effectiveness of three monoclonal antibodies for the separation of fetal cells from maternal blood by flow sorting. Mononuclear blood cells from 49 healthy pregnant women were incubated with antibody to CD 71, CD 36, and/or glycophorin A (GPA), employed singly or in combination with each other. These monoclonal antibodies recognize surface antigens on haematopoietic precursor cells. Successful isolation of fetal cells was defined as detection of Y chromosomal sequences in maternal blood from women carrying male fetuses, with absence of Y sequences when female fetuses were carried. Thus, gender prediction accuracy was used as a measure of fetal cell separation.
Using anti-CD 71 to isolate fetal cells, gender prediction was 57 per cent correct; with anti-CD 36, it was 88 per cent correct. Anti-GPA, an erythrocyte-specific antigen, used alone or in combination with anti-CD 71 or 36, improved gender prediction to 100 per cent. We conclude that antibody to GPA improves the retrieval of fetal NRBC from maternal blood, permitting genetic analysis by the polymerase chain reaction.