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J Clin Invest. Jan 1976; 57(1): 74–82.
PMCID: PMC436627

Degradation of blood group antigens in human colon ecosystems. II. A gene interaction in man that affects the fecal population density of certain enteric bacteria.


The autosomal dominant ABH secretor gene together with the ABO blood type gene control the presence and specificity of A, B, and H blood group antigens in human gut mucin glycoproteins. Certain obligate anaerobes in feces produce extracellular antigen-specific glycoside structures. We estimated the populations of these bacteria in feces of 22 healthy subjects by determining the greatest dilution of feces that yielded A, B, or H blood group-degrading enzyme activity after 24 h incubation in anaerobic cultures. Comparatively small populations of fecal bacteria produce blood group-degrading enzymes; their estimated populations were 10(8) per g or less in 21 subjects. Fecal populations of B-degrading bacteria were stable over time, and their population density averaged 50,000-fold greater in blood group B secretros than in other subjects. We present evidence that the greater fecal populations of B-degrading bacteria in B secretors is due in part to a competitive nutritional advantage gained by their ability to enzymatically cleave the B antigenic determinant alpha-D-galactose from gut mucins of B secretors. Fecal populations of bacteria producing A and H antigen-degrading enzyme activities were comparable in all subjects to the fecal population of B-degrading bacteria in B secretors. The large populations of fecal anaerobes may be an additional source of A antigen substrate for A-degrading bacteria; thus, antigens cross-reacting with A antigen were detected on cell walls of anaerobic bacteria from 3 of 10 cultures inoculated with 10(-10) g feces. Bacteria producing B-degrading activity likely represent a separate population from those producing A- or H-degrading activity since their fecal populations differed numerically in 14 subjects. These findings suggest that adaptation of blood group-degrading enzymes to mucin structures in human colon ecosystems is chiefly by mutation-selection of comparatively small populations of constitutive enzyme-producing strains rather than by substrate induced enzyme synthesis in many strains.

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Selected References

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