This review summarises present knowledge of the chemistry, immunology, genetics and clinical significance of antibodies in the Lewis and secretor histo-blood group systems. Although red cell serology has laid the foundations for these systems, more recent advances have been made by studying Lewis and related glycoconjugates with monoclonal antibodies, determining structures by mass spectrometry and NMR spectroscopy, identifying enzymes and their specificities, and identifying the genes by molecular biology. The expression of Lewis system antigens is dependent on Lewis and secretor loci. Fucosyltransferases coded by genes at these loci compete and interact with each other and with other transferases to determine an individual's Lewis and secretor phenotype. Exocrine epithelial cells, mostly of endodermal origin, synthesise the Lewis antigens which, as plasma glycolipids, are secondarily acquired by cells of the peripheral circulation. Phenotyping red cells is often regarded as a simple way of determining the Lewis and sometimes the secretor status of an individual; however, the red cell phenotype is influenced by many factors and may not necessarily reflect someone's Lewis and secretor genotypes. Two main red cell Lewis groups are usually found, Lewis negative and Lewis positive. In Lewis-negative individuals, the secretor genotype does not affect the Lewis phenotype, but in Lewis-positive individuals, the non-secretor genotype generates the Le(a+b-) phenotype, the secretor genotype causes the Le(a-b+) phenotype, and the partial secretor genotype gives rise to the Le(a+b+) phenotype.
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