Genetic and immunological properties of phage-displayed human anti-Rh(D) antibodies: implications for Rh(D) epitope topology

Blood. 1998 Apr 15;91(8):3066-78.


Understanding anti-Rh(D) antibodies on a molecular level would facilitate the genetic analysis of the human immune response to Rh(D), lead to the design of therapeutically useful reagents that modulate antibody binding, and provide relevant information regarding the structural organization of Rh(D) epitopes. Previously, we described a Fab/phage display-based method for producing a large array of anti-Rh(D) antibodies from the peripheral blood lymphocytes of a single alloimmunized donor. In the current study, we present a detailed analysis of 83 randomly selected clones. Sequence analysis showed the presence of 28 unique gamma1 heavy chain and 41 unique light chain gene segments. These paired to produce 53 unique Fabs that had specificity for at least half of the major Rh(D) epitopes. Surprisingly, despite this diversity, only 4 closely related heavy chain germline genes were used (VH3-30, VH3-30.3, VH3-33, and VH3-21). Similarly, nearly all Vkappa light chains (15/18) were derived from one germline gene (DPK9). lambda light chains showed a more diverse VL gene usage, but all (23/23) used the identical Jlambda2 gene. Several Fabs that differed in epitope specificity used identical heavy chains but different light chains. In particular, 2 such clones differed by only 3 residues, which resulted in a change from epD2 to epD3 specificity. These results suggest a model in which footprints of anti-Rh(D) antibodies are essentially identical to one another, and Rh(D) epitopes, as classically defined by panels of Rh(D) variant cells, are not discrete entities. Furthermore, these data imply that the epitope specificity of an anti-Rh(D) antibody can change during the course of somatic mutation. From a clinical perspective, this process, which we term epitope migration, has significance for the design of agents that modulate antibody production and for the creation of mimetics that block antibody binding in the settings of transfusion reactions and hemolytic disease of the newborn.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Antibodies / genetics*
  • Antibodies / immunology*
  • Bacteriophages / genetics
  • Epitope Mapping*
  • Epitopes / genetics
  • Epitopes / immunology
  • Gene Library
  • Humans
  • Immunoglobulin Light Chains / genetics
  • Immunoglobulin Light Chains / immunology
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Rh-Hr Blood-Group System / immunology*
  • Sequence Alignment


  • Antibodies
  • Epitopes
  • Immunoglobulin Light Chains
  • Rh-Hr Blood-Group System