Are N-glycolylneuraminic acid (Hanganutziu–Deicher) antigens important in pig-to-human xenotransplantation?


Address reprint requests to T. Kobayashi MD, Department of Surgery II, Nagoya University School of Medicine, 65 Tsurumai-cho, Showa-ku, Nagoya 466-8550, Japan (E-mail:


Abstract:  Background:  N-glycolylneuraminic acid (NeuGc) epitopes, so called Hanganutziu–Deicher (HD) antigens, which are widely expressed on endothelial cells of all mammals except humans, are considered to be potential targets for natural and elicited anti-nonGalα1-3 Gal (Gal) antibodies in humans. We previously reported that anti-NeuGc antibodies were not detected in healthy humans by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) using NeuGc-GM3-coated plates, and no antibody production was observed in patients with a history of exposure to pig cells. However, a recent paper has revealed that (i) anti-NeuGc antibodies to porcine red blood cells (PRBC) are detectable in most healthy humans, and (ii) the majority of anti-nonGal antibodies are specific for NeuGc epitopes. The purpose of this study was to reassess whether NeuGc is important as an immunogenic nonGal epitope.

Methods: The binding of antibodies to PRBC and porcine aortic endothelial cells (PAEC) was compared. Cells were treated with (i) α-galactosidase, and then (ii) neuraminidase, which digests sialic acids, including NeuGc epitopes. Cells were incubated with human pooled sera, and applied to flow cytometric analysis. After enzyme digestion, almost complete reduction of Gal and NeuGc expression was confirmed by GS-IB4 and HU/Ch2-7 (a chicken monoclonal antibody against HD antigens), respectively. Trypsin, which removes membrane glycoproteins, and endoglycoceramidase which cleaves glycolipids, were used for differentiating between NeuGc-containing glycoproteins and glycolipids.

Results:  Neuraminidase-treatment reduced the binding of immunoglobulin G (IgG) antibodies to PRBC; about half of the anti-nonGal IgG antibodies to PRBC were directed to NeuGc. In contrast, anti-nonGal antibodies to PAEC were not directed to NeuGc. Trypsin-treatment markedly reduced the expression of NeuGc only on PRBC. Endoglycoceramidase-treatment was followed by a greater reduction in NeuGc epitopes on PAEC than on PRBC. Most NeuGc on PRBC appeared to be linked to proteins, but most NeuGc on PAEC was expressed on glycolipids.

Conclusions:  Carbohydrate structures on PRBC are different from those on PAEC. Healthy human sera contain anti-nonGal IgG antibodies to NeuGc expressed on PRBC, but not on PAEC. We speculate that anti-nonGal IgG antibodies to PRBC can recognize both NeuGc and protein, and this may be the reason why such antibodies have not been detected by ELISA. A definite conclusion about the immunogenicity of NeuGc has not been obtained. More sera from patients (not from non-human primates) sensitized with porcine cells or organs need to be studied.