Protein molecule produced in the blood by lymphocytes in response to the presence of foreign or invading substances (antigens); such substances include the proteins carried on the surface of infecting micro-organisms. Antibody production is only one aspect of immunity in vertebrates.
Each antibody acts against only one kind of antigen, and combines with it to form a ‘complex’. This action may render antigens harmless, or it may destroy micro-organisms by setting off chemical changes that cause them to self-destruct.
In other cases, the formation of a complex will cause antigens to form clumps that can then be detected and engulfed by white blood cells, such as macrophages and phagocytes.
Each bacterial or viral infection will bring about the manufacture of a specific antibody, which will then fight the disease. Many diseases can only be contracted once because antibodies remain in the blood after the infection has passed, preventing any further invasion. Vaccination boosts a person's resistance by causing the production of antibodies specific to particular infections.
Large quantities of specific antibodies can now be obtained by the monoclonal technique (see monoclonal antibody).
Antibodies were discovered in 1890 by the German physician Emil von Behring and the Japanese bacteriologist Shibasaburo Kitasato.
In 1989 a Cambridge University team developed genetically engineered bacteria to make a small part of an antibody (single domain antibodies) which bind to invaders such as toxins, bacteria, and viruses. Since they are smaller, they penetrate tissues more easily, and are potentially more effective in clearing organs of toxins. They can be produced more quickly, using fewer laboratory mice, and unlike conventional antibodies, they also disable viruses. In addition, single domain antibodies can be used to highlight other molecules, such as hormones in pregnancy testing.
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Defence mechanisms, immunization and medicines
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Proteins in the blood which destroy or neutralise various toxins or ‘bodies’ (e.g. bacteria), known generally as antigens (see ANTIGEN). The antibod
In biology, the defence against disease provided by natural barriers. In animals this is provided by natural barriers to infection such as the skin,
Molecule in the immune system that circulates in blood and lymph in response to invasion by an antigen. Antibodies are globulins formed in lymphoid