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Biochimie. 2001 Jul;83(7):565-73.

ABH and Lewis histo-blood group antigens, a model for the meaning of oligosaccharide diversity in the face of a changing world.

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INSERM U419, Institute of Biology, 9, quai Moncousu, 44093 Nantes, France.


Antigens of the ABH and Lewis histo-blood group family have been known for a long time. Yet their biological meaning is still largely obscure. Based on the available knowledge about the genes involved in their biosynthesis and about their tissue distribution in humans and other mammals, we discuss here the selective forces that may maintain or propagate these oligosaccharide antigens. The ABO, alpha 1,2fucosyltransferase and alpha 1,3fucosyltransferase enzyme families have been generated by gene duplications. Members of these families contribute to biosynthesis of the antigens through epistatic interactions. We suggest that the highly polymorphic genes of each family provide intraspecies diversity that allows coping with diverse and rapidly evolving pathogens. In contrast, the genes of low frequency polymorphism are expected to play roles at the cellular level, although they may be dispensable at the individual level. In addition, some members of these three gene families are expected to be functionally redundant and may either provide a reservoir for additional diversity in the future or become inactivated. We also discuss the role of the ABH and Lewis histo-blood group antigens in pathologies such as cancer and cardiovascular diseases, but argue that it is merely incidental and devoid of evolutionary impact.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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