Landsteiner and Wiener used blood from a monkey (Macacus rhesus) to immunize
rabbits and guinea pigs in order to define new antibody specificities. One of the
antibodies they produced appeared to have the same specificity as a human antibody found
in several woman who had stillborn fetuses. Consequently, the antibodies were named
anti-Rh for rhesus. However, as early as 1942 it was known that the rabbit/guinea
pig and human antibodies could not be the same. When the guinea pig antibody was used to
test Rh+ and Rh negative cord blood cells (as defined by the human antibody) all samples
were reactive. The guinea pig antibody was given the name "D-like". Then Race
and Sanger found two women whose antibodies could be absorbed by Rh negative red cells and
which appeared to be similar to the "D-like" antibody from animals. Following
further studies by Levine the "D-like" name was changed to LW in honor of
Landsteiner and Wiener.
Today the LW and D antigens still remain related. Rh+ red cells express LW more
strongly than Rh negative cells. The early nomenclature tried to accommodate this
observation by using a numerical system; eg. LW1, LW2,
etc. but this changed following Sistonen's report of a new low frequency antigen
called Nea which was found in ~5% of Finns. Because further work
suggested that the Nea gene was allelic to LW,
they were renamed LWa and LWb
(Nea). Thus, the null phenotype for this system would be
LW(a-b-) which is extremely rare and is the result of a partial gene deletion. A transient
or acquired form of LW(a-b-) has been reported and these individuals are found because they
produce a transient anti-LW. Some (but not all) examples have been associated with terminal
illnesses such as Hodgkin's disease, leukemia, sarcomas or other malignancies.
Investigations of red cell membrane proteins using both human and murine monoclonal
antibodies have shown that these antigens are carried on a 40,000 molecular weight
glycoprotein. The cDNA work has revealed that the LW protein contains 208 extracellular
amino acids, 21 amino acids spanning the membrane and 12 amino acids inside the membrane.
There are several sites for the attachment of carbohydrate complexes. The LW glycoprotein
is a member of the immunoglobulin gene superfamily and is also known as ICAM-Y.