Background The immune system is educated to detect and react with foreign antigens and to tolerate self-antigen. Transfusion of blood cells and plasma and pregnancies challenge the immune system by the introduction of foreign antigens. The antigens may cause an immune response, but in many instances this is not the case and the individual is not immunised after exposure of blood group antigens.
Aims The aim of the presentation is to dissect some immune responses to blood group antigens in order to understand the mechanism of immunisation.
Methods The results of immune responses to blood group antigens can be detected by the presence of antibodies to the antigens. If the antibodies are of IgG class, the activated B cells have received help from antigen specific T cells. Both antibodies, B cells and T cells can be isolated from immunised individuals and studied in the laboratory. Also B-cell receptors and T-cell receptors as well as MHC molecules on antigen presenting cells can be studied and models of the immune synapses can be created in vitro.
Results The most classic immune responses in transfusion medicine and in incompatible pregnancies are immune responses to the RhD antigen on red cells, HLA class I molecules on white cells and platelets and human platelet antigens. The nature of these antigens are different; RhD antigens are part of a large complex, present on red cells from RhD positive individuals and completely lacking on red cells from RhD negative individuals. It is likely that many peptides derived from this antigen complex may stimulate T cells and B cells. HLA antigens are highly polymorphic and the antigens are known to induce strong alloimmune responses. The HPA antigens are created by one amino acid difference in allotypes based on a single nucleotide polymorphism at the genetic level. HPA 1a induce immune responses in 10% of HPA 1b homozygote pregnant women. The result of these immune responses is destruction of blood cells with clinical consequences connected to the effect of transfusions or the outcome of pregnancies.
Summary/Conclusions Even though there is emerging knowledge about the immune responses to some of the blood group antigens, more information must be gained in order to understand the complete picture. The action of the innate immune response initiating the adaptive immune response to blood group antigens is not well understood. A detailed understanding of both the innate ad the adaptive part of the immune response is necessary to identify individuals at risk for immunisation and to prevent immunisation to blood group antigens.