Using indirect immunofluorescence (IFL) on viable human thyroid cultures, it has been shown that, although adult follicular cells do not express blood group ABH antigens in vivo, they invariably reexpress the corresponding antigens on the cell surface when cultured in monolayers, even for very short periods. The absence of blood group antigens on noncultured thyroid cells was confirmed by negative IFL on cell suspensions obtained after enzymatic digestion of the glands, whereas these antigens were readily demonstrable on cell suspensions obtained by trypsinization of established monolayers. The quantitative expression of ABH antigens on individual thyroid cells was variable and the cell-surface IFL pattern due to binding of blood group isoantibodies was different from that given by organ-specific thyroid autoantibodies on viable cultures. Reexpression of blood group antigens by cultured thyroid cells could not be related to the secretor status of the donors, the presence of a particular source of serum in the culture medium or cell division in vitro. After 2-3 wk in culture, thyroid cells became morphologically dedifferentiated and no longer displayed blood group antigens, though they still expressed cell-surface beta 2-microglobulin. Fibroblasts present in the primary thyroid cultures were invariably negative for ABH antigens. These results demonstrate that the surface antigenic repertoire of cultured human cells is not necessarily identical to that present on the same cells in vivo. Furthermore, the possibility that blood group natural isoantibodies bind to the cell surface must be taken into account in experiments in which cultured thyroid cells are exposed to human sera.

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