Irregular antibodies are antibodies found in the blood of transfusion donors that have the potential to cause hemolysis of the recipient blood. Screening using an indirect Coombs Test should be performed to ensure that the donor blood is compatible with the recipient. “Irregular Antibodies” refers to all antibodies, other than those detecting ABO blood group antigens, that can cause incompatibility in blood transfusions and between mother & child.

The ABO Blood Group System

Most people are aware of the ABO blood group system. There are 4 major blood types in humans – A, B, O and AB. Some of the blood groups are incompatible with others; if a blood group is transfused into a patient with an incompatible blood group, hemolysis results. The incompatibility can result in death.

Example of ABO Incompatibility

Terence (recipient) is Blood Group A. He has A antigens on his red blood cells and anti-B antibodies in his plasma.
Theresa (donor) is Blood Group B. She has B antigens on her red blood cells and anti-A antibodies in her plasma.

If Theresa’s Group B blood is given to Terence, Terence’s anti-B antibodies will attack Theresa’s blood and cause it to hemolyse.

Since blood group incompatibility is life-threatening it is essential to confirm donor and recipient compatibility before a transfusion occurs. The ABO and Rhesus blood group systems are the most well-known but there are other less well known factors that can cause hemolysis in transfusion patients and new-borns – these are the Irregular Antibodies  

Anti-Kell – an example of an Irregular Antibody

Anti-Kell antibodies may develop in individuals which lack the Kell antigen upon:

  1. Receipt of a blood transfusion containing Kell antigen
  2. At childbirth following transplacental hemorrhage

In these cases the individual’s immune system will recognise the Kell antigen as a foreign molecule and elicit an immune-response, becoming sensitized to it.

Testing for donor compatibility – the Indirect Coombs Test

The indirect Coombs Test, also known as Indirect Antiglobulin Test, detects irregular antibodies. Again, taking anti-Kell as an example (See Figure 1):

  1. Recipient serum may contain irregular antibodies (e.g. anti-Kell)
  2. Donor blood sample is added to recipient serum
  3. Recipient irregular antibodies, if present, bind to donor red blood cells where the corresponding antigen is present
  4. Anti-human Immunoglobulins (Coombs reagent) is added. The antibodies within Coombs reagent bind the Fc region of any irregular antibodies and, where those irregular antibodies have bound the donor red blood cells, form bridges between immune complexes on red blood cells, resulting in agglutination
Positive Coombs Test result for Irregular Antibodies

There are many other irregular antibodies, such as those listed below, available from Logical Biological.

Irregular Antibody Product Identifier
anti-c H191
anti-Cw H193
anti-D H189
anti-E H190
anti-Fya H195
anti-Jka H194
anti-Kell H192
anti-Kpb H205
anti-Lea H200
anti-Leb (Lewis) H201
anti-Lua H203
anti-Lub H204
anti-M H196
anti-N H197
anti-P1 H202
anti-Public H207
anti-S H198
anti-s H199
auto-Pap H206