Blood group antigens

Blood is classified into different groups according to the presence or absence of molecules called antigens on the surface of every red blood cell in a person's body. Antigens determine blood type and can either be proteins or complexes of sugar molecules (polysaccharides). The genes in the blood group antigen family provide instructions for making antigen proteins. Blood group antigen proteins serve a variety of functions within the cell membrane of red blood cells. These protein functions include transporting other proteins and molecules into and out of the cell, maintaining cell structure, attaching to other cells and molecules, and participating in chemical reactions.

Blood group antigens play a role in recognizing foreign cells in the bloodstream. For example, if a person with blood type A receives a blood transfusion with blood type B, the recipient's immune system will recognize the type B cells as foreign and mount an immune response. Antibodies against type B blood cells (anti-B antibodies) are made, which attack and destroy the type B blood cells. This sort of blood type mismatch can lead to illness. Some blood types are associated with more severe immune reactions than others. The blood type of donated cells, or tissues in the case of organ donation, is checked before being given to a recipient in order to prevent this immune response.

There are 29 recognized blood groups, most involving only one gene. Variations (polymorphisms) within the genes that determine blood group give rise to the different antigens for a particular blood group protein. For example, changes in a few DNA building blocks (nucleotides) in the ABO gene give rise to the A, B, and O blood types of the ABO blood group. The changes that occur in the genes that determine blood group typically affect only blood type and are not associated with adverse health conditions, although exceptions do occur.

Example of a gene in this gene family: SLC4A1

The HUGO Gene Nomenclature Committee (HGNC) provides an index of gene families and their member genes.


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