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Do red blood cells have no MHC? (I have often heard that they do not.)

If so why are they not destroyed by immune cells?

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Actually, effete red blood cells are eventually removed from circulation by immune system phagocytes. While this would not involve an MHC-mediated mechanism, the means the immune system recognizes dying RBC's is an interesting field of current research. – J. Alfred Prufrock Oct 16 '13 at 22:23
up vote 4 down vote accepted

They do not, at least not normally or noticeably. MHC I occurs on all nucleated cells, and red blood cells do not have nuclei. If they did indeed have MHC on them, blood transfusions would be as successful and as tricky as organ donation. There are reports of MHC detection on red blood cells, but the amount is orders of magnitude smaller than elsewhere, only present for certain MHC alleles, and often transient.

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So why are they not rejected by immunity cells ? – biogirl Oct 13 '13 at 17:35
@biogirl I'm not sure what you're asking. – Amory Oct 14 '13 at 0:51
@Biogirl - They can be if they have the wrong blood-type or Rh factor. – MCM Oct 14 '13 at 1:12
@biogirl Ah, I see. It's not particularly well known, but the two main theories are that either RBCs lack additional markers needed for natural killer cells to engage, or that RBCs express additional proteins that inhibit destruction, such as CD47 in the case of macrophages. I'm actually doing research on a very related topic so I'll just say that I think it's closer to the latter. – Amory Oct 14 '13 at 22:23
@Amory Ok, I get it now. Thanks !Hope you find something really exciting with your research ! – biogirl Oct 15 '13 at 14:17

There are other histocompatibility antigens on the surface of blood cells, e.g. A, B, Rh, etc... (There are probably a lot more which change less by person to person, so they have lower effect on the outcome of blood transfusion.) These antigens can be recognized by immune cells as self, that's why they don't destroy them. Before complete differentiation RBCs have nuclei, so they can have MHC1 remnants on their surface from that period of their development. RBCs are relatively well tolerated by the immune system especially with coverage.

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