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Antibody molecules: Mediators of disease and diagnostic tools

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I have, in this lecture, discussed many different roles that antibody molecules may play: these include the role of immune protection; an autoimmune role, whereby these molecules may mediate a disease process; and finally their role as diagnostic tools. Another role antibody may be considered to play is that of surrogate antigen. Antibody binds to antigen through the possession of a molecular shape which is complementary to that of the antigen: in a sense the antibody shape is the mirror image of the antigen shape. Now, we also know that anti antibodies are produced in the normal immune system: these are called antiidiotype antibodies. In order to bind to an antibody, the anti idiotype antibody must have a complementary shape, and this in fact turns out to be the same molecular shape as that of the original antigen! It may help to understand this concept if you take a large drawing pad with several writing utensils and stand on your head! Well, in fact, these rather fanciful ideas turn out to be real and indeed anti idiotype antibodies have been used as an artificial antigen, or if you like as a “surrogate” antigen, to immunise animals against potential pathogens.

We know that IgG antibodies, are passed across the placenta to the foetus and that such maternal IgG is protective to the newborn child for several months until such time as the child has started to produce adequate amounts of its own immunoglobulin. The possibility that maternal IgG might also be playing an alternative role suggested itself to Alex Whelan i.e. that maternal antibody, acting as surrogate antigen, was educating the foetus about the many antigen shapes the mother had encountered in her lifetime. So adopting the concept of Aldous Huxley that “part, literature and science are one” Alex was stimulated to write poetry. This was duly published by Immunology Today, a leading review journal of Immunology - the first time this journal had ever departed from the conventional, serious, factual reporting of science. The poem was entitled “Maternal antibody - a legacy”.

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Correspondence to Conleth Feighery.

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Graves Lecture, 16th May 1989

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Feighery, C. Antibody molecules: Mediators of disease and diagnostic tools. I.J.M.S. 158, 245–252 (1989).

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  • Coeliac Disease
  • Anticoagulant Effect
  • Trinity College
  • Antibody Molecule
  • Anti Idiotype Antibody