Immunogenetic studies of maternal-fetal relationships: a review: why newborn rhesus monkeys don't get hemolytic disease.
The discovery of the Rh blood group factor in humans was made using the red blood cells of rhesus monkeys. Because of its importance to human medicine and immunogenetics, this finding contributed greatly to the appreciation of the importance of nonhuman primates in research. It is now widely recognized that blood group incompatibility between mother and fetus can lead to differential fertility, fetal death, and hemolytic disease of the newborn (HDN). The blood group systems of several nonhuman primate species have been studied in detail and found to be analogous, although not identical, to those of humans. It is therefore surprising that HDN has been reported in only four nonhuman primate species--marmosets, sacred baboons, chimpanzees, and orangutans. Maternal-fetal blood group incompatibility and its consequences have been extensively studied in rhesus monkeys, and these macaques may well be representative of many nonhuman primates. Rhesus monkeys exhibit all five of the conditions that lead to HDN in humans: (1) blood group incompatible matings; (2) transplacental hemorrhage; (3) maternal immunization to blood group alloantigens on fetal erythrocytes; (4) transplacental transfer of maternal antibodies; and (5) coating of the newborn's erythrocytes. Yet, newborns show no clinical or hematological evidence of HDN. We have shown that the rhesus alloantibodies engendered by transplacental immunization do not mediate immune elimination of the newborn's erythrocytes. Evaluation of the maternal antibodies demonstrated that they have low titers and low avidities and perhaps belong to IgG subclasses that do not bind effectively to receptors on phagocytic cells of the rhesus reticuloendothelial system. The newborn's genotype may also affect the expression of allogeneic blood group antigens and thereby help protect the newborn's cells from destruction. These factors together undoubtedly play a major role in the survival of the antibody-coated newborn's RBC and are thus able to account for the absence of HDN in this species.