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March 26, 2016
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1 Introduction



Antibodies (also known as immunoglobulins

Though the general structure of all antibodies is very similar, a small region at the tip of the protein is extremely variable, allowing millions of antibodies with slightly different tip structures, or antigen binding sites, to exist. This region is known as the hypervariable region . Each of these variants can bind to a different target, known as an antigen.

The large and diverse population of antibodies is generated by random combinations of a set of gene segments that encode different antigen binding sites (or paratopes ), followed by random mutations in this area of the antibody gene, which create further diversity.

Surface immunoglobulin (Ig) is attached to the membrane of the effector B cells by its transmembrane region, while antibodies are the secreted form of Ig and lack the trans membrane region so that antibodies can be secreted into the bloodstream and body cavities. As a result, surface Ig and antibodies are identical except for the transmembrane regions. Therefore, they are considered two forms of antibodies: soluble form or membrane-bound form (Parham 21-22).

The membrane-bound form of an antibody may be called a surface immunoglobulin (sIg) or a membrane immunoglobulin (mIg). It is part of the B cell receptor (BCR), which allows a B cell to detect when a specific antigen is present in the body and triggers B cell activation. The BCR is composed of surface-bound IgD or IgM antibodies and associated Ig-?? and Ig-?? heterodimers, which are capable of signal transduction. A typical human B cell will have 50,000 to 100,000 antibodies bound to its surface. Upon antigen binding, they cluster in large patches, which can exceed 1 micrometer in diameter, on lipid rafts that isolate the BCRs from most other cell signaling receptors.

These patches may improve the efficiency of the cellular immune response . which further isolates the BCRs from competing influences.

Antibody isotypes of mammals
'''Name''' '''Types''' style="text-align:center;"'''Description''' style="text-align:center;"'''Antibody Complexes
IgA style="text-align:center;"2 Found in mucosal areas, such as the Gut (zoology)|gut, respiratory tract and urogenital tract, and prevents colonization by pathogens. Also found in saliva, tears, and breast milk. rowspan="5" |File:Mono-und-Polymere.svg|170px|Some antibodies form protein structure|complexes that bind to multiple antigen molecules.
IgD style="text-align:center;"1 Functions mainly as an antigen receptor on B cells that have not been exposed to antigens.
IgE style="text-align:center;"1 Binds to allergens and triggers histamine release from mast cells and basophils, and is involved in allergy. Also protects against parasitic worms.
IgG style="text-align:center;"4 In its four forms, provides the majority of antibody-based immunity against invading pathogens. The only antibody capable of crossing the placenta to give passive immunity to fetus.
IgM style="text-align:center;"1 Expressed on the surface of B cells and in a secreted form with very high avidity. Eliminates pathogens in the early stages of B cell mediated (humoral) immunity before there is sufficient IgG.

Antibodies can come in different varieties known as isotypes or classes. In placental mammals there are five antibody isotypes known as IgA, IgD, IgE, IgG and IgM. They are each named with an "Ig" prefix that stands for immunoglobulin, another name for antibody, and differ in their biological properties, functional locations and ability to deal with different antigens, as depicted in the table.

The antibody isotype of a B cell changes during cell development and activation . Immature B cells, which have never been exposed to an antigen, are known as na??ve B cells and express only the IgM isotype in a cell surface bound form. B cells begin to express both IgM and IgD when they reach maturity???the co-expression of both these immunoglobulin isotypes renders the B cell 'mature' and ready to respond to antigen. B cell activation follows engagement of the cell bound antibody molecule with an antigen, causing the cell to divide and differentiate into an antibody producing cell called a plasma cell. In this activated form, the B cell starts to produce antibody in a secreted form rather than a membrane -bound form. Some daughter cells of the activated B cells undergo isotype switching, a mechanism that causes the production of antibodies to change from IgM or IgD to the other antibody isotypes, IgE, IgA or IgG, that have defined roles in the immune system.

Antibodies are heavy (~150 k Da ) globular plasma proteins. They have sugar chains added to some of their amino acid residues. In other words, antibodies are glycoproteins . The basic functional unit of each antibody is an immunoglobulin (Ig) monomer (containing only one Ig unit); secreted antibodies can also be dimeric with two Ig units as with IgA, tetrameric with four Ig units like teleost fish IgM, or pentameric with five Ig units, like mammalian IgM.

The variable parts of an antibody are its V regions, and the constant part is its C region.

Immunoglobulin domains

The Ig monomer is a "Y"-shaped molecule that consists of four polypeptide chains; two identical heavy chains and two identical light chains connected by disulfide bonds.

Each chain is composed of structural domains called immunoglobulin domains. These domains contain about 70-110 amino acids and are classified into different categories (for example, variable or IgV, and constant or IgC) according to their size and function. They have a characteristic immunoglobulin fold in which two beta sheets create a ???sandwich??? shape, held together by interactions between conserved cysteines and other charged amino acids.

Heavy chain

There are five types of mammalian Ig heavy chain denoted by the Greek letters: ??, ??, ??, ??, and ??.

In birds, the major serum antibody, also found in yolk, is called IgY . It is quite different from mammalian IgG. However, in some older literature and even on some commercial life sciences product websites it is still called "IgG", which is incorrect and can be confusing.

Each heavy chain has two regions, the constant region and the variable region . The constant region is identical in all antibodies of the same isotype, but differs in antibodies of different isotypes. Heavy chains ??, ?? and ?? have a constant region composed of three tandem (in a line) Ig domains , and a hinge region for added flexibility; heavy chains ?? and ?? have a constant region composed of four immunoglobulin domains. The variable region of the heavy chain differs in antibodies produced by different B cells, but is the same for all antibodies produced by a single B cell or B cell clone . The variable region of each heavy chain is approximately 110 amino acids long and is composed of a single Ig domain.

Light chain

In mammals there are two types of immunoglobulin light chain, which are called lambda (??) and kappa (??). Each antibody contains two light chains that are always identical; only one type of light chain, ?? or ??, is present per antibody in mammals. Other types of light chains, such as the iota (??) chain, are found in lower vertebrates like Chondrichthyes and Teleostei.

CDRs, Fv, Fab and Fc Regions

Some parts of an antibody have unique functions. The arms of the Y, for example, contain the sites that can bind two antigens (in general identical) and, therefore, recognize specific foreign objects. This region of the antibody is called the Fab (fragment, antigen binding) region . It is composed of one constant and one variable domain from each heavy and light chain of the antibody.

The paratope is shaped at the amino terminal end of the antibody monomer by the variable domains from the heavy and light chains. The variable domain is also referred to as the FV region and is the most important region for binding to antigens. More specifically, variable loops of ??-strands, three each on the light (VL) and heavy (VH) chains are responsible for binding to the antigen. These loops are referred to as the complementarity determining regions (CDRs).

In the framework of the immune network theory, CDRs are also called idiotypes. According to immune network theory, the adaptive immune system is regulated by interactions between idiotypes.

The base of the Y plays a role in modulating immune cell activity. This region is called the Fc (Fragment, crystallizable) region , and is composed of two heavy chains that contribute two or three constant domains depending on the class of the antibody.

Activated B cells differentiate into either antibody-producing cells called plasma cells that secrete soluble antibody or memory cells that survive in the body for years afterward in order to allow the immune system to remember an antigen and respond faster upon future exposures.

At the prenatal and neonatal stages of life, the presence of antibodies is provided by passive immunization from the mother. Early endogenous antibody production varies for different kinds of antibodies, and usually appear within the first years of life. Since antibodies exist freely in the bloodstream, they are said to be part of the humoral immune system. Circulating antibodies are produced by clonal B cells that specifically respond to only one antigen (an example is a virus capsid protein fragment). Antibodies contribute to immunity in three ways: they prevent pathogens from entering or damaging cells by binding to them; they stimulate removal of pathogens by macrophages and other cells by coating the pathogen; and they trigger destruction of pathogens by stimulating other immune responses such as the complement pathway .

Activation of complement

Antibodies that bind to surface antigens on, for example, a bacterium attract the first component of the complement cascade with their Fc region and initiate activation of the "classical" complement system. First, the binding of the antibody and complement molecules marks the microbe for ingestion by phagocytes in a process called opsonization; these phagocytes are attracted by certain complement molecules generated in the complement cascade. Secondly, some complement system components form a membrane attack complex to assist antibodies to kill the bacterium directly.

Activation of effector cells

To combat pathogens that replicate outside cells, antibodies bind to pathogens to link them together, causing them to agglutinate . Since an antibody has at least two paratopes it can bind more than one antigen by binding identical epitopes carried on the surfaces of these antigens. By coating the pathogen, antibodies stimulate effector functions against the pathogen in cells that recognize their Fc region.

Those cells which recognize coated pathogens have Fc receptors which, as the name suggests, interacts with the Fc region of IgA, IgG, and IgE antibodies. The engagement of a particular antibody with the Fc receptor on a particular cell triggers an effector function of that cell; phagocytes will phagocytose , mast cells and neutrophils will degranulate , natural killer cells will release cytokines and cytotoxic molecules; that will ultimately result in destruction of the invading microbe. The Fc receptors are isotype-specific, which gives greater flexibility to the immune system, invoking only the appropriate immune mechanisms for distinct pathogens.

Natural antibodies

Humans and higher primates also produce ???natural antibodies??? which are present in serum before viral infection. Natural antibodies have been defined as antibodies that are produced without any previous infection, vaccination, other foreign antigen exposure or passive immunization. These antibodies can activate the classical complement pathway leading to lysis of enveloped virus particles long before the adaptive immune response is activated. Many natural antibodies are directed against the disaccharide galactose ??(1,3)-galactose (??-Gal), which is found as a terminal sugar on glycosylated cell surface proteins, and generated in response to production of this sugar by bacteria contained in the human gut. Rejection of xenotransplantated organs is thought to be, in part, the result of natural antibodies circulating in the serum of the recipient binding to ??-Gal antigens expressed on the donor tissue.

Virtually all microbes can trigger an antibody response. Successful recognition and eradication of many different types of microbes requires diversity among antibodies; their amino acid composition varies allowing them to interact with many different antigens. It has been estimated that humans generate about 10 billion different antibodies, each capable of binding a distinct epitope of an antigen.

Domain variability

The region (locus) of a chromosome that encodes an antibody is large and contains several distinct genes for each domain of the antibody???the locus containing heavy chain genes ( IGH@) is found on chromosome 14, and the loci containing lambda and kappa light chain genes ( IGL@ and IGK@) are found on chromosomes 22 and 2 in humans. One of these domains is called the variable domain, which is present in each heavy and light chain of every antibody, but can differ in different antibodies generated from distinct B cells. Differences, between the variable domains, are located on three loops known as hypervariable regions (HV-1, HV-2 and HV-3) or complementarity determining regions (CDR1, CDR2 and CDR3). CDRs are supported within the variable domains by conserved framework regions. The heavy chain locus contains about 65 different variable domain genes that all differ in their CDRs. Combining these genes with an array of genes for other domains of the antibody generates a large cavalry of antibodies with a high degree of variability. This combination is called V(D)J recombination discussed below.

V(D)J recombination

Somatic recombination of immunoglobulins, also known as V(D)J recombination , involves the generation of a unique immunoglobulin variable region. The variable region of each immunoglobulin heavy or light chain is encoded in several pieces???known as gene segments. These segments are called variable (V), diversity (D) and joining (J) segments. V, D and J segments are found in Ig heavy chains , but only V and J segments are found in Ig light chains . Multiple copies of the V, D and J gene segments exist, and are tandemly arranged in the genomes of mammals. In the bone marrow, each developing B cell will assemble an immunoglobulin variable region by randomly selecting and combining one V, one D and one J gene segment (or one V and one J segment in the light chain). As there are multiple copies of each type of gene segment, and different combinations of gene segments can be used to generate each immunoglobulin variable region, this process generates a huge number of antibodies, each with different paratopes , and thus different antigen specificities.

After a B cell produces a functional immunoglobulin gene during V(D)J recombination, it cannot express any other variable region (a process known as allelic exclusion) thus each B cell can produce antibodies containing only one kind of variable chain.

Somatic hypermutation and affinity maturation

For more details on this topic, see Somatic hypermutation and Affinity maturation

Following activation with antigen, B cells begin to proliferate rapidly. In these rapidly dividing cells, the genes encoding the variable domains of the heavy and light chains undergo a high rate of point mutation, by a process called somatic hypermutation (SHM). SHM results in approximately one nucleotide change per variable gene, per cell division. As a consequence, any daughter B cells will acquire slight amino acid differences in the variable domains of their antibody chains.

This serves to increase the diversity of the antibody pool and impacts the antibody???s antigen-binding affinity . Some point mutations will result in the production of antibodies that have a weaker interaction (low affinity) with their antigen than the original antibody, and some mutations will generate antibodies with a stronger interaction (high affinity). B cells that express high affinity antibodies on their surface will receive a strong survival signal during interactions with other cells, whereas those with low affinity antibodies will not, and will die by apoptosis. Thus, B cells expressing antibodies with a higher affinity for the antigen will outcompete those with weaker affinities for function and survival. The process of generating antibodies with increased binding affinities is called affinity maturation . Affinity maturation occurs in mature B cells after V(D)J recombination, and is dependent on help from helper T cells.

Class switching

Isotype or class switching is a biological process occurring after activation of the B cell, which allows the cell to produce different classes of antibody (IgA, IgE, or IgG). The different classes of antibody, and thus effector functions, are defined by the constant (C) regions of the immunoglobulin heavy chain. Initially, na??ve B cells express only cell-surface IgM and IgD with identical antigen binding regions. Each isotype is adapted for a distinct function, therefore, after activation, an antibody with a IgG, IgA, or IgE effector function might be required to effectively eliminate an antigen. Class switching allows different daughter cells from the same activated B cell to produce antibodies of different isotypes. Only the constant region of the antibody heavy chain changes during class switching; the variable regions, and therefore antigen specificity, remain unchanged. Thus the progeny of a single B cell can produce antibodies, all specific for the same antigen, but with the ability to produce the effector function appropriate for each antigenic challenge. Class switching is triggered by cytokines; the isotype generated depends on which cytokines are present in the B cell environment.

Class switching occurs in the heavy chain gene locus by a mechanism called class switch recombination (CSR). This mechanism relies on conserved nucleotide motifs, called switch (S) regions , found in DNA upstream of each constant region gene (except in the ??-chain). The DNA strand is broken by the activity of a series of enzymes at two selected S-regions. The variable domain exon is rejoined through a process called non-homologous end joining (NHEJ) to the desired constant region (??, ?? or ??). This process results in an immunoglobulin gene that encodes an antibody of a different isotype.

Disease diagnosis and therapy

Detection of particular antibodies is a very common form of medical diagnostics , and applications such as serology depend on these methods. For example, in biochemical assays for disease diagnosis, a titer of antibodies directed against Epstein-Barr virus or Lyme disease is estimated from the blood. If those antibodies are not present, either the person is not infected, or the infection occurred a very long time ago, and the B cells generating these specific antibodies have naturally decayed. In clinical immunology, levels of individual classes of immunoglobulins are measured by nephelometry (or turbidimetry) to characterize the antibody profile of patient. Elevations in different classes of immunoglobulins are sometimes useful in determining the cause of liver damage in patients whom the diagnosis is unclear. The Coombs test is also used for antibody screening in blood transfusion preparation and also for antibody screening in antenatal women.

Practically, several immunodiagnostic methods based on detection of complex antigen-antibody are used to diagnose infectious diseases, for example ELISA, immunofluorescence, Western blot, immunodiffusion, immunoelectrophoresis, and Magnetic immunoassay. Antibodies raised against Human chorionic gonadotropin are used in over the counter pregnancy tests.

Targeted monoclonal antibody therapy is employed to treat diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, psoriasis, and many forms of cancer including non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, colorectal cancer, head and neck cancer and breast cancer.

Some immune deficiencies, such as X-linked agammaglobulinemia and hypogammaglobulinemia, result in partial or complete lack of antibodies. These diseases are often treated by inducing a short term form of immunity called passive immunity. Passive immunity is achieved through the transfer of ready-made antibodies in the form of human or animal serum , pooled immunoglobulin or monoclonal antibodies, into the affected individual.

Prenatal therapy

Rhesus factor, also known as Rhesus D (RhD) antigen, is an antigen found on red blood cells; individuals that are Rhesus-positive (Rh+) have this antigen on their red blood cells and individuals that are Rhesus-negative (Rh???) do not. During normal childbirth, delivery trauma or complications during pregnancy, blood from a fetus can enter the mother's system. In the case of an Rh-incompatible mother and child, consequential blood mixing may sensitize an Rh- mother to the Rh antigen on the blood cells of the Rh+ child, putting the remainder of the pregnancy, and any subsequent pregnancies, at risk for hemolytic disease of the newborn.

Rho(D) immune globulin antibodies are specific for human Rhesus D (RhD) antigen. Anti-RhD antibodies are administered as part of a prenatal treatment regimen to prevent sensitization that may occur when a Rhesus-negative mother has a Rhesus-positive fetus. Treatment of a mother with Anti-RhD antibodies prior to and immediately after trauma and delivery destroys Rh antigen in the mother's system from the fetus. Importantly, this occurs before the antigen can stimulate maternal B cells to "remember" Rh antigen by generating memory B cells. Therefore, her humoral immune system will not make anti-Rh antibodies, and will not attack the Rhesus antigens of the current or subsequent babies. Rho(D) Immune Globulin treatment prevents sensitization that can lead to Rh disease, but does not prevent or treat the underlying disease itself.

Specific antibodies are produced by injecting an antigen into a mammal, such as a mouse, rat or rabbit for small quantities of antibody, or goat, sheep, or horse for large quantities of antibody. Blood isolated from these animals contains polyclonal antibodies???multiple antibodies that bind to the same antigen???in the serum , which can now be called antiserum. Antigens are also injected into chickens for generation of polyclonal antibodies in egg yolk. To obtain antibody that is specific for a single epitope of an antigen, antibody-secreting lymphocytes are isolated from the animal and immortalized by fusing them with a cancer cell line. The fused cells are called hybridomas, and will continually grow and secrete antibody in culture. Single hybridoma cells are isolated by dilution cloning to generate cell clones that all produce the same antibody; these antibodies are called monoclonal antibodies. Polyclonal and monoclonal antibodies are often purified using Protein A/G or antigen-affinity chromatography .

In research, purified antibodies are used in many applications. They are most commonly used to identify and locate intracellular and extracellular proteins. Antibodies are used in flow cytometry to differentiate cell types by the proteins they express; different types of cell express different combinations of cluster of differentiation molecules on their surface, and produce different intracellular and secretable proteins. They are also used in immunoprecipitation to separate proteins and anything bound to them (co-immunoprecipitation) from other molecules in a cell lysate, in Western blot analyses to identify proteins separated by electrophoresis, and in immunohistochemistry or immunofluorescence to examine protein expression in tissue sections or to locate proteins within cells with the assistance of a microscope. Proteins can also be detected and quantified with antibodies, using ELISA and ELISPOT techniques.

The importance of antibodies in health care and the biotechnology industry demands knowledge of their structures at high resolution . This information is used for protein engineering, modifying the antigen binding affinity, and identifying an epitope, of a given antibody. X-ray crystallography is one commonly used method for determining antibody structures. However, crystallizing an antibody is often laborious and time consuming. Computational approaches can provide a cheaper faster alternative to crystallography, but their results are more equivocal since they do not produce empirical structures. Online web servers such as Web Antibody Modeling (WAM) and Prediction of Immunoglobulin Structure (PIGS) enables computational modeling of antibody variable regions. Rosetta Antibody is a novel antibody FV region structure prediction server , which incorporates sophisticated techniques to minimize CDR loops and optimize the relative orientation of the light and heavy chains, as well as homology models that predict successful docking of antibodies with their unique antigen.

The first use of the term "antibody" occurred in a text by Paul Ehrlich. The term Antik??rper (the German word for antibody ) appears in the conclusion of his article "Experimental Studies on Immunity", published in October 1891, which states that "if two substances give rise to two different antik??rper, then they themselves must be different". However, the term was not accepted immediately and several other terms for antibody were proposed; these included Immunk??rper , Amboceptor , Zwischenk??rper , substance sensibilisatrice , copula , Desmon , philocytase , fixateur , and Immunisin .

The study of antibodies began in 1890 when Emil von Behring and Kitasato Shibasabur?? described antibody activity against diphtheria and tetanus toxins. Behring and Kitasato put forward the theory of humoral immunity, proposing that a mediator in serum could react with a foreign antigen. Their idea prompted Paul Ehrlich to propose the side chain theory for antibody and antigen interaction in 1897, when he hypothesized that receptors (described as ???side chains???) on the surface of cells could bind specifically to toxins ??? in a "lock-and-key" interaction ??? and that this binding reaction was the trigger for the production of antibodies. Other researchers believed that antibodies existed freely in the blood and, in 1904, Almroth Wright suggested that soluble antibodies coated bacteria to label them for phagocytosis and killing; a process that he named opsoninization.

In the 1920s, Michael Heidelberger and Oswald Avery observed that antigens could be precipitated by antibodies and went on to show that antibodies were made of protein. The biochemical properties of antigen-antibody binding interactions were examined in more detail in the late 1930s by John Marrack. The next major advance was in the 1940s, when Linus Pauling confirmed the lock-and-key theory proposed by Ehrlich by showing that the interactions between antibodies and antigens depended more on their shape than their chemical composition. In 1948, Astrid Fagreaus discovered that B cells, in the form of plasma cells, were responsible for generating antibodies.

Further work concentrated on characterizing the structures of the antibody proteins. A major advance in these structural studies was the discovery in the early 1960s by Gerald Edelman and Joseph Gally of the antibody light chain , and their realization that this protein was the same as the Bence-Jones protein described in 1845 by Henry Bence Jones. Edelman went on to discover that antibodies are composed of disulfide bond-linked heavy and light chains. Around the same time, antibody-binding (Fab) and antibody tail (Fc) regions of IgG were characterized by Rodney Porter. Together, these scientists deduced the structure and complete amino acid sequence of IgG, a feat for which they were jointly awarded the 1972 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. The Fv fragment was prepared and characterized by David Givol. While most of these early studies focused on IgM and IgG, other immunoglobulin isotypes were identified in the 1960s: Thomas Tomasi discovered secretory antibody ( IgA) and David Rowe and John Fahey identified IgD, and IgE was identified by Kikishige Ishizaka and Teruki Ishizaka as a class of antibodies involved in allergic reactions. Genetic studies identifying the basis of the vast diversity of these antibody proteins when somatic recombination of immunoglobulin genes was by Susumu Tonegawa in 1976.

  • Antibody mimetic

  • Anti-mitochondrial antibodies

  • Anti-nuclear antibodies

  • Colostrum


  • Humoral immunity

  • Immunology

  • Immunosuppressive drug

  • Intravenous immunoglobulin (IVIg)

  • Magnetic immunoassay

  • Microantibody

  • Monoclonal antibody

  • Neutralizing antibody

  • Secondary antibodies

  • Single domain antibody

  • Slope spectroscopy

  • Mike's Immunoglobulin Structure/Function Page at University of Cambridge

  • Antibodies as the PDB molecule of the month Discussion of the structure of antibodies at Protein Data Bank

  • Microbiology and Immunology On-line Textbook at University of South Carolina

  • A hundred years of antibody therapy History and applications of antibodies in the treatment of disease at University of Oxford

  • How Lymphocytes Produce Antibody from Cells Alive!

  • Antibody applications Fluorescent antibody image library, University of Birmingham

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "antibody".

Last Modified:   2010-11-25

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