The ABO blood group system revisited: a review and update

Immunohematology. 2009;25(2):48-59.


The antigens of the ABO system were the first to be recognized as blood groups and actually the first human genetic markers known. Their presence and the realization of naturally occurring antibodies to those antigens lacking from the cells made sense of the erratic failure of blood transfusion hitherto and opened up the possibility of a safe treatment practice in life-threatening blood loss. Although initially apparently simple, the ABO system has come to grow in complexity over the years. The mass of knowledge relating to carbohydrate chemistry, enzymology, molecular genetics, and structural and evolutionary biology is now enormous thanks to more than a century of research using ABO as a principal model. This has provided us with data to form a solid platform of evidence-based transfusion and transplantation medicine used every day in laboratories and clinics around the globe. This review aims to summarize key findings and recent progress made toward further understanding of this surprisingly polymorphic system.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • ABO Blood-Group System* / classification
  • ABO Blood-Group System* / genetics
  • ABO Blood-Group System* / immunology
  • ABO Blood-Group System* / metabolism
  • Blood Transfusion*
  • Gene Expression Regulation
  • Humans
  • Isoantibodies / immunology
  • Polymorphism, Genetic
  • Receptors, Cell Surface / classification
  • Receptors, Cell Surface / genetics
  • Receptors, Cell Surface / immunology
  • Receptors, Cell Surface / metabolism


  • ABO Blood-Group System
  • Isoantibodies
  • Receptors, Cell Surface