Immunogenicity is determined, in part, by four properties of the immunogen: its foreignness, molecular size, chemical composition and complexity, and ability to be processed and presented with an MHC molecule on the surface of an antigen-presenting cell or altered self-cell.
In order to elicit an immune response, a molecule must be recognized as nonself by the biological system. The capacity to recognize nonself is accompanied by tolerance of self, a specific unresponsiveness to self antigens. Much of the ability to tolerate self antigens arises during lymphocyte development, during which immature lymphocytes are exposed to self-components. Antigens that have not been exposed to immature lymphocytes during this critical period may be later recognized as nonself, or foreign, by the immune system. When an antigen is introduced into an organism, the degree of its immunogenicity depends on the degree of its foreign-ness. Generally, the greater the phylogenetic distance between two species, the greater the structural (and therefore the antigenic) disparity between them.
For example, the common experimental antigen bovine serum albumin (BSA) is not immunogenic when injected into a cow but is strongly immunogenic when injected into a rabbit. Moreover, BSA would be expected to exhibit greater immunogenicity in a chicken than in a goat, which is more closely related to bovines. There are some exceptions to this rule. Some macromolecules (e.g., collagen and cytochrome c) have been highly conserved throughout evolution and therefore display very little immunogenicity across diverse species lines. Conversely, some self-components (e.g., corneal tissue and sperm) are effectively sequestered from the immune system, so that if these tissues are injected even into the animal from which they originated, they will function as immunogens.
There is a correlation between the size of a macromolecule and its immunogenicity. The most active immunogens tend to have a molecular mass of 100,000 daltons (Da). Generally, substances with a molecular mass less than 5000-10,000 Da are poor immunogens, although a few substances with a molecular mass less than 1000 Da have proven to be im-munogenic.
Size and foreignness are not, by themselves, sufficient to make a molecule immunogenic; other properties are needed as well. For example, synthetic homopolymers (polymers composed of a single amino acid or sugar) tend to lack im-munogenicity regardless of their size. Studies have shown that copolymers composed of different amino acids or sugars are usually more immunogenic than homopolymers of their constituents. These studies show that chemical complexity contributes to immunogenicity. In this regard it is notable that all four levels of protein organization—primary, secondary, tertiary, and quaternary—contribute to the structural complexity of a protein and hence affect its immuno-genicity (Figure 3-1).
Appropriately presented lipoidal antigens can induce B- and T-cell responses. For the stimulation of B-cell responses, lipids are used as haptens and attached to suitable carrier molecules such as the proteins keyhole limpet hemocyanin (KLH) or bovine serum albumin (BSA). By immunizing with these lipid-protein conjugates it is possible to obtain antibodies that are highly specific for the target lipids. Using this approach, antibodies have been raised against a wide variety of lipid molecules including steroids, complex fatty-acid derivatives, and fat-soluble vitamins such as vitamin E. Such antibodies are of considerable practical importance since many clinical assays for the presence and amounts of medically important lipids are antibody-based. For example, a determination of the levels of a complex group of lipids known as leukotrienes can be useful in evaluating asthma patients. Prednisone, an immunosuppressive steroid, is often given as part of the effort to prevent the rejection of a trans-
Amino acid sequence of polypeptide chain
P pleated sheet
P pleated sheet
Monomeric polypeptide molecule TERTIARY STRUCTURE
Dimeric protein molecule QUATERNARY STRUCTURE
Monomeric polypeptide molecule TERTIARY STRUCTURE
The four levels of protein organizational structure. The linear arrangement of amino acids constitutes the primary structure. Folding of parts of a polypeptide chain into regular structures (e.g., a helices and p pleated sheets) generates the secondary structure. Tertiary structure refers to the folding of regions between sec-
ondary features to give the overall shape of the molecule or parts of it (domains) with specific functional properties. Quaternary structure results from the association of two or more polypeptide chains into a single polymeric protein molecule.
planted organ. The achievement and maintenance of adequate blood levels of this and other immunosuppressive drugs is important to a successful outcome of transplantation, and antibody-based immunoassays are routinely used to make these evaluations. The extraordinary sensitivity and specificity of assays based on the use of anti-lipid antibodies is illustrated by Table 3-2, which shows the specificity of an antibody raised against leukotriene C4. This antibody allows the detection of as little as 16-32 picograms per ml of leukotriene C4. Because it has little or no reactivity with similar compounds, such as leukotriene D4 or leukotriene E4, it can be used to assay leukotriene C4 in samples that contain this compound and a variety of other structurally related lipids.
T cells recognize peptides derived from protein antigens when they are presented as peptide-MHC complexes. However, some lipids can also be recognized by T cells. Lipoidal compounds such as glycolipids and some phospholipids can be recognized by T-cell receptors when presented as complexes with molecules that are very much like MHC molecules. These lipid-presenting molecules are members of the CD1 family (see Chapter 8) and are close structural relatives of class I MHC molecules. The lipid molecules recognized by the CDl-T-cell receptor system all appear to share the common feature of a hydrophobic portion and a hydrophilic head group. The hydrophobic portion is a long-chain fatty acid or alcohol and the hydrophilic head group is composed of highly polar groups that often contain carbohydrates. Recognition of lipids is a part of the immune response to some pathogens, and T cells that recognize lipids arising from Mycobacterium tuberculosis and Mycobacterium leprae, which respectively cause tuberculosis and leprosy, have been isolated from humans infected by these mycobacteria. More about the presentation of lipoidal antigens can be found in Chapter 8.
Specificity of an antibody against a complex lipid
Antibody reactivity* (on scale of 1 to 100)
3 nh2 oh
3 nh2 oh
OH O CH
*The reactivity of the antibody with the immunizing antigen leukotriene C4 is assigned a value of 100 in arbitrary units.
SUSCEPTIBILITY TO ANTIGEN PROCESSING AND PRESENTATION
The development of both humoral and cell-mediated immune responses requires interaction of T cells with antigen that has been processed and presented together with MHC molecules. Large, insoluble macromolecules generally are more immunogenic than small, soluble ones because the larger molecules are more readily phagocytosed and processed. Macromolecules that cannot be degraded and presented with MHC molecules are poor immunogens. This can be illustrated with polymers of d-amino acids, which are stereoisomers of the naturally occurring l-amino acids. Because the degradative enzymes within antigen-presenting cells can degrade only proteins containing l-amino acids, polymers of d-amino acids cannot be processed and thus are poor immunogens.
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