Tissue typing is a group of procedures that determines the type of histocompatibility antigens on a person's cells or tissues. This procedure is typically used prior to transplantation of tissues or organs.
Tissue typing is done prior to transplantation to ensure as close a match as possible between the donor and the recipient. If the histocompatibility antigens do not match well, there is a much greater chance that the recipient will reject the donated tissue.
Histocompatibility antigens are molecules on the surface of all cells in the body. The specific types of histocompatibility antigens present on a person's cells determine their identity and distinguish each person. They are a "fingerprint."
Each person has a unique set of histocompatibility antigens. If the antigens on tissue or organs from a donor do not match that of the recipient, a rejection response can occur. The recipient's immune system will detect the difference between the two sets of antigen and start a rejection response to kill the donated tissue. Except in the case of identical twins, no two people are identical in terms of their histocompatibility antigen types. However, the closer two tissues come to matching, the more likely the recipient will accept the donated tissue or organ.
Human Lymphocyte Antigens (HLA) is the name given to the most commonly used histocompatibility antigens. The antigens can be grouped into two classes: class I antigens are found on almost all cells, and class II antigens are normally found only on B lymphocytes, macrophages, monocytes, dendritic cells, and endothelial cells.
Generally, typing is performed on blood cells because they are an easy sample to obtain. Blood is withdrawn from a vein in the forearm, and the cells are separated. There are a number of different techniques used to identify the antigens on the cells. Typically, specific antibodies react with the cells. Each antibody preparation is specific for one histocompatibility antigen. If the antigen is present, the antibody will bind to it. Laboratory instruments are used to detect antibody binding to the cells. Class II antigens are determined by the mixed lymphocyte reaction (MLR) or by a polymerase chain reaction (PCR). In the mixed lymphocyte reaction, lymphocyte replication occurs if there is a mismatch, and is detected by a specific assay. The PCR test is a new DNA-based test that can detect the presence or absence of antigens by determining whether cells have the genes for the antigens.
One type of transplant does not require tissue typing. In the case of corneal transplants, tissue typing is not needed because corneas do not have their own blood supply. This greatly reduces the chance that immune cells will come in contact with the cornea and recognize it as foreign. For this reason, corneas can be transplanted from any person, and there is little chance of rejection.
Because each person has their own histocompatibility antigen "fingerprint," there is no true normal result. Each fingerprint is unique.
Berkow, Robert, ed. Merck Manual of Medical Information. Whitehouse Station, NJ: Merck Research Laboratories, 1997.
Beutler, E., et al., eds. William's Hematology. 5th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, Inc. 1995.
Henry, J. B. Clinical Diagnosis and Management by Laboratory Methods. New York: W. B. Saunders Co., 1996.
John T. Lohr, PhD
Antibody—A molecule produced by the body that is part of the immune response to attack antigens.
Antigen—A molecule that causes the body to produce an immunological response to attack the antigen.
Cornea—The transparent outer layer of the eye. It covers the iris and lens.
Lymphocyte—A class of white blood cells that are responsible for creating the immune response to antigens.