After testing red cells from 12 RhE variants with a panel of anti-E monoclonal antibodies (MoAbs), four patterns of reactivity were detected indicating that the MoAbs may recognize four distinct E epitopes designated epE1, epE2, epE3 and epE4. The variants were classified into four categories (cat EI to EIV) which carried epE1 and epE2, epE1 and epE4, epE1, epE3 and epE4, and all four epitopes, respectively. Molecular analysis of the transcripts and genomic DNA of the variants from cat EI, EII and EIII displayed three distinct genetic alterations. Cat EI variants exhibited a point mutation (T500A) in exon 4 of the RHCE gene that resulted in a Met167Lys substitution in the third extracellular loop of the RhcE protein. Cat EII variant carried a hybrid gene structure characterized by replacement of exons 1-3 (or 2-3) of the RHCE gene by their specific counterparts in the RHD gene. This latter variant was also associated with a weak expression of the RhC antigen. In cat EIII variants there was a partial DNA exchange of exon 5 sequences (nt 697 and 712) between the RHCE and the RHD genes, generating a hybrid Rh cE-D-cE protein carrying the Glu233 and Val238 substitutions.
The serological and molecular studies of the RhE variants indicated that:(i) the RhE antigen is a mosaic composed of at least four epitopes and proline at position 226 is necessary but not sufficient for the full expression of the E antigen, (ii) the lack of RhE epitope(s) is associated with heterogenous molecular alterations of the RHCE gene, and (iii) amino-acids located on the third and fourth extracellular loops of the RhCE polypeptide are critical for some RhE epitopes expression.