Associations between blood type and disease have been studied since the early 1900s when researchers determined that antibodies and antigens are inherited. In the 1950s, the chemical identification of the carbohydrate structure of surface antigens led to the understanding of biosynthetic pathways. The blood type is defined by oligosaccharide structures, which are specific to the antigens, thus, blood group antigens are secondary gene products, while the primary gene products are various glycosyltransferase enzymes that attach the sugar molecules to the oligosaccharide chain. Blood group antigens are found on red blood cells, platelets, leukocytes, plasma proteins, certain tissues, and various cell surface enzymes, and also exist in soluble form in body secretions such as breast milk, seminal fluid, saliva, sweat, gastric secretions, urine, and amniotic fluid. Recent advances in technology, biochemistry, and genetics have clarified the functional classifications of human blood group antigens, the structure of the A, B, H, and Lewis determinants and the enzymes that produce them, and the association of blood group antigens with disease risks. Further research to identify differences in the biochemical composition of blood group antigens, and the relationship to risks for disease, can be important for the identification of targets for the development of nutritional intervention strategies, or the identification of druggable targets. WIREs Syst Biol Med 2016, 8:517-535. doi: 10.1002/wsbm.1355 For further resources related to this article, please visit the WIREs website.
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