Cold agglutination - at body temperature, the antibodies do not attach to the red blood cells. At lower temperatures, however, the antibodies react to Ii antigens, bringing the red blood cells together, a process known as agglutination
All individuals have circulating antibodies directed against red blood cells, but their concentrations are often too low to trigger disease (titers under 64 at 4 °C). In individuals with cold agglutinin disease, these antibodies are in much higher concentrations (titers over 1000 at 4 °C).
At body temperatures of 28-31 °C, such as those encountered during winter months, and occasionally at body temperatures of 37 °C, antibodies (generally IgM) bind to the polysaccharide region of glycoproteins on the surface of red blood cells (typically the I antigen, i antigen, and Pr antigens). Binding of antibodies to red blood cells activates the classical pathway of the complement system. If the complement response is sufficient, red blood cells are damaged by the membrane attack complex, an effector of the complement cascade. In the formation of the membrane attack complex, several complement proteins are inserted into the red blood cell membrane, forming pores that lead to membrane instability and intravascular hemolysis (destruction of the red blood cell within the blood vessels).
If the complement response is insufficient to form membrane attack complexes, then extravascular lysis will be favored over intravascular red blood cell lysis. In lieu of the membrane attack complex, complement proteins (particularly C3b and C4b) are deposited on red blood cells. This opsonization enhances the clearance of red blood cell by phagocytes in the liver, spleen, and lungs, a process termed extravascular hemolysis.
Individuals with cold agglutinin disease present with signs and symptoms of hemolytic anemia. Those with secondary agglutinin disease may also present with an underlying disease, often autoimmune.
^DACIE JV, CROOKSTON JH, CHRISTENSON WN (January 1957). "Incomplete cold antibodies role of complement in sensitization to antiglobulin serum by potentially haemolytic antibodies". Br. J. Haematol.3 (1): 77–87. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2141.1957.tb05773.x. PMID13413095.