Czech scientists solved the enigma of coexistence of people with Rh+ and Rh- blood groups

The biological function of the Rhesus gene-coded protein, a part of an ion pump and also a carrier of probably the most immunogenic site on human red cells, is still unknown. New discovery headed by Professor Jaroslav Flegr (Faculty of Science, Charles University, Prague, Czech Republic) could provide new hints for what this function could be. The discovery could be also of importance for clinical praxis as it could be used in personalized medicine in future.

A new study published in PLoS ONE – (2016: Heterozygote Advantage Probably Maintains Rhesus Factor Blood Group Polymorphism: Ecological Regression Study. Flegr – showed that incidence and morbidity of many diseases and disorders correlate negatively with frequencies of Rh+ heterozygotes (i.e. the carriers of one copy of the gene for Rh positivity and one copy of the gene for Rh negativity) in the population of individual countries. At the same time, the disease burden associated with the same disorders correlated positively with frequency of Rh negative subjects in individual countries. Together with the observed worse health status and higher incidence of many disorders in Rh negative subjects published by the same research team last autumn (2015: Worse health status and higher incidence of health disorders in Rhesus negative subjects. Flegr, J., Hoffmann, R., Dammann), this result probably solved 80 years old enigma of coexistence of carriers of two variants of Rhesus gene in the same population. Before the advent of modern medicine, about 10 000 Rh positive children born to Rh negative mothers were dying for hemolytic anemia in the US each year. Without the superiority of the heterozygotes – the carriers of both variants of Rhesus gene, the less abundant allele should be quickly eliminated from any population.

Professor Jaroslav Flegr, the head of the research team and the author of the present paper said: “One enigma has been probably solved, however, two new have arisen. The first one is, how is it possible that the correlation of the disease burden and the frequency of particular genotypes have not been described much earlier when all necessary data are available at WHO pages and the analyses can be performed within a few hours. Similarly, data showing worse health status of Rh negative subjects are available in many databases including the large Scandinavian nationwide databases. The second enigma is even more challenging – what is the physiological mechanism of better health status of Rh positive heterozygotes, i.e. the subjects with one copy of an intact and one copy of a nearly totally deleted Rhesus gene.

Photo: Archive of Charles University
Jaroslav Flegr is the author of Frozen evolution theory as well as of more than a hundred of scientific papers showing, for example, that the parasite Toxoplasma, which infects about one third of the human population, influences certain aspects of human behavior and personality. He was co-awarded Ig Nobel prize for public health in 2014, the prize for achievements that make people laugh, and then make them think.


About Marina

President of the Czech Science Journalists Club Editor-in-chief of the Academic Bulletin ASCR