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N Engl J Med. 1996 Feb 1;334(5):281-5.

Mismatches of minor histocompatibility antigens between HLA-identical donors and recipients and the development of graft-versus-host disease after bone marrow transplantation.

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Department of Immunohematology and Blood Bank, Leiden University Hospital, The Netherlands.



Graft-versus-host disease (GVHD) can be a major complication of allogeneic bone marrow transplantation even when the donor and recipient are siblings and share identical major histocompatibility antigens. The explanation may be a mismatch of minor histocompatibility antigens. We previously characterized five minor histocompatibility antigens, HA-1, 2, 3, 4, and 5, that are recognized by T cells in association with the major histocompatibility antigens HLA-A1 an A2.


We collected peripheral-blood leukocytes from 148 bone marrow recipients and their sibling donors, who were genotypically HLA identical. Fifty pairs were positive for HLA-A1, 117 were positive for HLA-A2, and 19 were positive for both. The pairs were typed with cytotoxic-T-cell clones specific for minor histocompatibility antigens HA-1, 2, 3, 4, and 5.


Mismatches of HA-3 were equally distributed among recipients in whom GVHD developed and those in whom it did not. By contrast, a mismatch of only HA-1 was significantly correlated with GVHD of grade II or higher (odds ratio, infinity; P = 0.02) in adults. One or more mismatches of HA-1, 2, 4, and 5 were also significantly associated with GVHD (odds ratio, infinity; P = 0.006) in adults. These associations were not observed in children.


A mismatch of minor histocompatibility antigen HA-1 can cause GVHD in adult recipients of allogeneic bone marrow from HLA-identical donors. Prospective HA-1 typing may improve donor selection and identify recipients who are at high risk for GVHD.

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