What is the role of antigens and antibodies?
The immune system comprises all systems, organs, structures, cells, and molecules that identify both SELF and non-SELF.
Identifying SELF and non-SELF is the primary key mechanism used by our immune system to kill and destroy dangerous things while protecting our own self.
Non-SELF as opposed to SELF refers to any foreign cell, and will be rejected by our immune system. All this is based on the “friend or foe” recognition of the distinctive sign worn by each cell in our body: HLA (MHC I), which represents our own antigens.
What is an antigen?
An antigen is a natural or synthetic substance which, by itself or by binding to another substance, triggers an immune response through the production of antibodies by B lymphocytes (humeral immunity).
Every time we fight a pathogen like a virus, a bacteria, a fungus or a parasite it’s because it has antigens.
Sometimes a substance too small to be antigenic binds to another substance to become antigenic. This is exactly what happens with penicillin allergy: in fact, it binds to a protein in the blood and thus triggers activation of the immunity, which recognizes this new molecular association as antigenic.
It’s a bit like an enemy who on his own is not always identified as an enemy because he comes across as insignificant, and then a criminal association reveals the danger and alerts the army.
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What is an antibody?
An antibody is specific protein produce by the B lymphocytes. Antibodies are essential in our immune defense has they bind to antigens allowing them to be neutralized and eliminated.
When an antigen enters us, large amounts of antibodies are produced by the B lymphocytes that transform into plasma cells, and released into the blood to bind to the antigen and neutralize it.
This antigen-antibodies mechanism is part of what we call the specific defenses, also called adaptive immune response.
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