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Location of antigenic epitopes on antibody molecules

Journal of Molecular Biology
Publication Date
DOI: 10.1016/0022-2836(86)90502-4


Abstract Using X-ray crystallographic co-ordinates of immunoglobulins, surface regions accessible to a large spherical probe, comparable in size to an antibody domain, were computed. Locations of these exposed regions were compared with those of experimentally determined antigenic sites, i.e. idiotypic, allotypic and isotypic serological markers. In all cases, an excellent agreement was found. The most prominent computed epitopes correspond to convex parts of antibody surface made by reverse turn segments of the polypeptide chain. The computed epitopes occur in homologous positions in all the immunoglobulin domains, and most of the β-sheet surfaces on the domains are poorly antigenic. The CH2 domain (Fc fragment) has many more antigenic sites than the Fab fragments (antigen-binding fragments). Variable domain epitopes (idiotypes) involve both hypervariable and framework residues, and only about 25% of the hypervariable residues are strongly antigenic. The results indicate that, in a vertebrate body, each antibody molecule may be recognized, and its concentration regulated, by at least 40 complementary antiimmunoglobulin antibodies; therefore, a possibility of an “immune network” with much higher connectivity than is generally assumed should be seriously contemplated.

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