The branch of life science which deals with immune reaction is known as immunology.

Components of Immune System:

The immune system consists of a network of diverse organs and tissue which vary structurally as well as functionally from each other. These organs remain spreaded throughout the body. Basically, immune system is a complex network of lymphoid organs, tissues and cells.

These lym­phoid organs can be categorized under three types depending upon their functional aspects:

i.  Primary lymphoid organ.

ii. Secondary lymphoid organ.

iii.Tertiary lymphoid organ.

White blood cells or leukocytes are the basic cell types which help to give rise to different types of cells which participate in the development of immune response . WBC are classified into granulocytes and agranulocytes depending on the presence or absence of granules in the cyto­plasm.

Agranular leukocytes are of two types, viz., lymphocytes and monocytes. Lymphocytes play pivotal role in producing defensive molecules of immune system. Out of all leukocytes, only lymphocytes possess the quality of diversity, specificity, memory and self-non self recognition as various important aspects of immune response.

Other cell types remain as accessory one; help to activate lymphocytes, to generate various immune effector cells, to increase the rate of anti­gen clearance 

All cells of the immune system have their origin in the bone marrow 

myeloid (neutrophils, basophils, eosinpophils, macrophages and dendritic cells) 

lymphoid (B lymphocyte, T lymphocyte and Natural Killer) cells .

The myeloid progenitor (stem) cell in the bone marrow gives rise to erythrocytes, platelets, neutrophils, monocytes/macrophages and dendritic cells whereas the lymphoid progenitor (stem) cell gives rise to the NK, T cells and B cells. 

For T cell development the precursor T cells must migrate to the thymus where they undergo differentiation into two distinct types of T cells, the CD4+ T helper cell and the CD8+ pre-cytotoxic T cell. 

Two types of T helper cells are produced in the thymus the TH1 cells, which help the CD8+ pre-cytotoxic cells to differentiate into cytotoxic T cells, and TH2 cells, which help B cells, differentiate into plasma cells, which secrete antibodies. 

Function of the immune system is self/non-self discrimination. 

This ability to distinguish between self and non-self is necessary to protect the organism from invading pathogens and to eliminate modified or altered cells (e.g. malignant cells). 

Since pathogens may replicate intracellularly (viruses and some bacteria and parasites) or extracellularly (most bacteria, fungi and parasites), different components of the immune system have evolved to protect against these different types of pathogens.

Related Questions Immunology


A.  IgG

1. Structure

 All IgG’s are monomers (7S immunoglobulin). The subclasses differ in the number of disulfide bonds and length of the hinge region.

2. Properties

IgG is the most versatile immunoglobulin because it is capable of carrying out all of the functions of immunoglobulin molecules.

a) IgG is the major Ig in serum – 75% of serum Ig is IgG

b) IgG is the major Ig in extra vascular spaces

c) Placental transfer – IgG is the only class of Ig that crosses the placenta. Transfer is mediated by a receptor on placental cells for the Fc region of IgG. Not all subclasses cross equally well; IgG2 does not cross well.

d) Fixes complement – Not all subclasses fix equally well; IgG4 does not fix complement

e) Binding to cells – Macrophages, monocytes and neutrophils and some lymphocytes have Fc receptors for the Fc region of IgG.  A consequence of binding to the Fc receptors on such cells  is that the cells can now internalize the antigen better. The antibody prepares the antigen for killing by the phagocytic cells. The term opsonin is used to describe substances that enhance phagocytosis. (Coating of the surface of pathogen by antibody is called opsonization).IgG is a good opsonin. Binding of IgG to Fc receptors on other types of cells results in the activation of other functions.


1. Structure
 IgM normally exists as a pentamer (19S immunoglobulin) but it can also exist as a monomer. In the pentameric form all heavy chains are identical and all light chains are identical. Thus, the valence is theoretically 10. IgM has an extra domain on the mu chain (CH4) and it has another protein covalently bound via a S-S bond called the J chain. This chain functions in polymerization of the molecule into a pentamer.

2. Properties

a) IgM is the third most common serum Ig.

b) IgM is the first Ig to be made by the fetus and the first Ig to be made by a virgin B cells when it is stimulated by antigen.

c) As a consequence of its pentameric structure, IgM is a good complement fixing Ig. Thus, IgM antibodies are very efficient in leading to the lysis of microorganisms.

d) As a consequence of its structure, IgM is also a good agglutinating Ig . Thus, IgM antibodies are very good in clumping microorganisms for eventual elimination from the body.

e) IgM binds to some cells via Fc receptors.

f) B cell surface Ig 

Surface IgM exists as a monomer and lacks J chain but it has an extra 20 amino acids at the C-terminus to anchor it into the membrane . Cell surface IgM functions as a receptor for antigen on B cells.


1. Structure

Serum IgA is a monomer but IgA found in secretions is a dimer as presented in Figure 10. When IgA exits as a dimer, a J chain is associated with it.

When IgA is found in secretions is also has another protein associated with it called the secretory piece or T piece; sIgA is sometimes referred to as 11S immunoglobulin. Unlike the remainder of the IgA which is made in the plasma cell, the secretory piece is made in epithelial cells and is added to the IgA as it passes into the secretions . The secretory piece helps IgA to be transported across mucosa and also protects it from degradation in the secretions.

2. Properties

a) IgA is the 2nd most common serum Ig.

b) IgA is the major class of Ig in secretions – tears, saliva, colostrum, mucus. Since it is found in secretions secretory IgA is important in local (mucosal) immunity.

c) Normally IgA does not fix complement, unless aggregated.

d) IgA can binding to some cells – PMN’s and some lymphocytes.


1. Structure

 IgD exists only as a monomer.

2. Properties

a) IgD is found in low levels in serum; its role in serum  is uncertain.

b) IgD is primarily found on B cell surfaces where it functions as a receptor for antigen.

c) IgD does not bind complement.

E. IgE

1. Structure

IgE exists as a monomer and has an extra domain in the constant region.

2. Properties

a) IgE is the least common serum Ig since it binds very tightly to Fc receptors on basophils and mast cells even before interacting with antigen.

b) Involved in allergic reactions – As a consequence of its binding to basophils and mast cells, IgE is involved in allergic reactions. Binding of the allergen to the IgE on the cells results in the release of various pharmacological mediators that result in allergic symptoms.

c) IgE also plays a role in parasitic helminth diseases. Since serum IgE levels rise in parasitic diseases, measuring IgE levels is helpful in diagnosing parasitic infections. Eosinophils have Fc receptors for IgE and binding of eosinophils to IgE-coated helminths results in killing of the parasite.

d) IgE does not fix complement.

Test for Antigen - Antibody Reactions

Antigens are those substance that stimulates the production of antibodies which, when enter into the body it reacts specifically in a manner that are clearly visible. 

Some antigens may not induce antibody production, but instead creates immunological tolerance. 
An antigen introduced into the body produces only specific antibodies and will react with only those specific antigens. 
These antibodies appear in the serum and tissue fluids. All antibodies are considered as immunoglobulin. They are mainly of five classes; IgG, IgA, IgM, IgD and IgE. 

Antigen- antibody reactions are known as serological reactions and are used as serological diagnostic tests for the identification of infectious diseases.

The reaction occurs mainly in three stages; 

1. The initial interaction between the antigen and antibody, which produces no visible effects. It is a reversible and rapid reaction.
2. The secondary stage leads to the demonstration proceedings, such as precipitation, agglutination, etc.
3. The tertiary reaction follows the neutralization or destruction of injurious antigens. These results in clinical allergy and other immunological diseases.

There are certain characteristics for antigen-antibody reactions;

1. Reaction is specific.
2. The whole molecules participate in the reaction, and not just a part of it.
3. No denaturation of antigen or antibody occurs during the reaction.
4. The combination usually occurs at the surface.
5. The combination is firm, but reversible
6. Agglutinins formed after agglutination usually are formed by both antigen and antibody together.
7. They can combine in varying proportions.

Measurement of antigen and antibody are made in terms of mass or as units or titre.

Serological reactions include;

1. Precipitation reaction

a soluble antigen combining with the specific antibody in the presence of electrolytes at a suitable temperature and pH forming insoluble precipitins.  Commonly used tests are ring test, slide test, tube test, immunodiffusion, etc.

Radial Immunodiffusion 

In radial immunodiffusion antibody is incorporated into the agar gel as it is poured and different dilutions of the antigen are placed in holes punched into the agar. As the antigen diffuses into the gel, it reacts with the antibody and when the equivalence point is reached a ring of precipitation is formed .
This test is commonly used in the clinical laboratory for the determination of immunoglobulin levels in patient samples.


In immunoelectrophoresis, a complex mixture of antigens is placed in a well punched out of an agar gel and the antigens are electrophoresed so that the antigen are separated according to their charge. After electrophoresis, a trough is cut in the gel and antibodies are added. As the antibodies diffuse into the agar, precipitin lines are produced in the equivalence zone when an antigen/antibody reaction occurs .

This tests is used for the qualitative analysis of complex mixtures of antigens

This test can also be used to evaluate purity of isolated serum proteins.

Countercurrent electrophoresis

In this test the antigen and antibody are placed in wells punched out of an agar gel and the antigen and antibody are electrophoresed into each other where they form a precipitation line. 

2. Agglutination reaction 

when a particulate antigen is mixed with its antibody in the presence of electrolytes at a suitable temperature and pH, the particles are clumped or agglutinated. When the antigen is an erythrocyte the term hemagglutination is used.

Applications of agglutination tests

i. Determination of blood types or antibodies to blood group antigens.
ii. To assess bacterial infections
e.g. A rise in titer of an antibody to a particular bacterium indicates an infection with that bacterial type. N.B. a fourfold rise in titer is generally taken as a significant rise in antibody titer.

Passive hemagglutination 

The agglutination test only works with particulate antigens. However, it is possible to coat erythrocytes with a soluble antigen (e.g. viral antigen, a polysaccharide or a hapten) and use the coated red blood cells in an agglutination test for antibody to the soluble antigen . This is called passive hemagglutination. 
The test is performed just like the agglutination test.

Applications include detection of antibodies to soluble antigens and detection of antibodies to viral antigens.

Coomb's Test (Antiglobulin Test)


The DAT is used to detect IgG or C3 bound to the surface of the red cell.  In patients with hemolysis, the DAT is useful in determining whether there is an immune etiology.  
A positive DAT can occur without hemolysis
Immune causes of hemolysis including autoimmune hemolytic anemias, drug induced hemolysis, and delayed or acute hemolytic transfusion reactions are characterized by a positive DAT.


The IAT (antibody screen) is performed by incubating patient serum with reagent screening red cells for approximately 20 minutes and then observing for agglutination.  If the antibody screen is positive, additional testing is required to determine the specificity of the antibody. 

The IAT is used to detect red cell antibodies in patient serum.  Approximately 5% of patients have a positive IAT due to IgG antibodies, IgM antibodies, or both.

3. Complement fixation test (CFT)

the ability of antigen antibody complexes to fix complement is made use in this test. Complement is something which takes part in any immunological reaction and absorbed during the combining of antigen with its specific antibody. 

The best example of CFT is the Wassermann reaction done for the detection of Syphilis.

4. Neutralization test

different types of these are available. Virus neutralization, toxin neutralization, etc. are some of its kind.

5. Opsonization

this makes use of the determination of opsonic index, which is the ratio of the phagocytic activity of patient’s blood to the phagocytic activity of the normal patient’s for a given bacterium.

6. Immunfluorescence 

the method of labeling the antibodies with fluorescent dyes and using them for the detection of antigens in tissues.

7. Radioimmunoassay (RIA)

 is a competitive binding radioisotopes and enzymes are used as labels to conjugate with antigens or antibodies.

8. Enzyme Immuno Assay (EIA)

 the assays based on the measurement of enzyme labeled antigen or antibody. The most common example is ELISA used to detect HIV.

9. Immunoelectroblot

 it uses the sensitivity of Enzyme immunoassay with a greater specificity. Example is Western blot done for the serodiagnosis of HIV infection.


The elements of the innate (non-specific) immune system include anatomical barriers, secretory molecules and cellular components. 

Among the mechanical anatomical barriers are the skin and internal epithelial layers, the movement of the intestines and the oscillation of broncho-pulmonary cilia. 

Associated with these protective surfaces are chemical and biological agents.

A. Anatomical barriers to infections

1. Mechanical factors

The epithelial surfaces form a physical barrier that is very impermeable to most infectious agents. Thus, the skin acts as our first line of defense against invading organisms. The desquamation of skin epithelium also helps remove bacteria and other infectious agents that have adhered to the epithelial surfaces. 

2. Chemical factors

Fatty acids in sweat inhibit the growth of bacteria. Lysozyme and phospholipase found in tears, saliva and nasal secretions can breakdown the cell wall of bacteria and destabilize bacterial membranes. The low pH of sweat and gastric secretions prevents growth of bacteria. Defensins (low molecular weight proteins) found in the lung and gastrointestinal tract have antimicrobial activity. Surfactants in the lung act as opsonins (substances that promote phagocytosis of particles by phagocytic cells). 

3. Biological factors

The normal flora of the skin and in the gastrointestinal tract can prevent the colonization of pathogenic bacteria by secreting toxic substances or by competing with pathogenic bacteria for nutrients or attachment to cell surfaces.

B. Humoral barriers to infection

Humoral factors play an important role in inflammation, which is characterized by edema and the recruitment of phagocytic cells. These humoral factors are found in serum or they are formed at the site of infection.

1. Complement system – The complement system is the major humoral non-specific defense mechanism (see complement chapter). Once activated complement can lead to increased vascular permeability, recruitment of phagocytic cells, and lysis and opsonization of bacteria. 

2. Coagulation system – Depending on the severity of the tissue injury, the coagulation system may or may not be activated. Some products of the coagulation system can contribute to the non-specific defenses because of their ability to increase vascular permeability and act as chemotactic agents for phagocytic cells. In addition, some of the products of the coagulation system are directly antimicrobial. For example, beta-lysin, a protein produced by platelets during coagulation can lyse many Gram positive bacteria by acting as a cationic detergent.

3. Lactoferrin and transferrin – By binding iron, an essential nutrient for bacteria, these proteins limit bacterial growth.

4. Interferons – Interferons are proteins that can limit virus replication in cells.

5. Lysozyme – Lysozyme breaks down the cell wall of bacteria. 

6. Interleukin -1 – Il-1 induces fever and the production of acute phase proteins, some of which are antimicrobial because they can opsonize bacteria.

C. Cellular barriers to infection

Part of the inflammatory response is the recruitment of polymorphonuclear eosinophiles and macrophages to sites of infection. These cells are the main line of defense in the non-specific immune system.

1. Neutrophils – Polymorphonuclear cells  are recruited to the site of infection where they phagocytose invading organisms and kill them intracellularly. In addition, PMNs contribute to collateral tissue damage that occurs during inflammation.

2. Macrophages – Tissue macrophages  and newly recruited monocytes , which differentiate into macrophages, also function in phagocytosis and intracellular killing of microorganisms. In addition, macrophages are capable of extracellular killing of infected or altered self target cells. Furthermore, macrophages contribute to tissue repair and act as antigen-presenting cells, which are required for the induction of specific immune responses.

3. Natural killer (NK) and lymphokine activated killer (LAK) cells – NK and LAK cells can nonspecifically kill virus infected and tumor cells. These cells are not part of the inflammatory response but they are important in nonspecific immunity to viral infections and tumor surveillance. 

4. Eosinophils – Eosinophils  have proteins in granules that are effective in killing certain parasites.

Immunoglobulin (Ig)

Immunoglobulins are glycoprotein molecules that are produced by plasma cells in response to an immunogen and which function as antibodies. The immunoglobulins derive their name from the finding that they migrate with globular proteins when antibody-containing serum is placed in an electrical field

1. Immunoglobulins bind specifically to one or a few closely related antigens. Each immunoglobulin actually binds to a specific antigenic determinant. Antigen binding by antibodies is the primary function of antibodies and can result in protection of the host.

2. The significant biological effects are a consequence of secondary "effector functions" of antibodies.Phagocytic cells, lymphocytes, platelets, mast cells, and basophils have receptors that bind immunoglobulins. This binding can activate the cells to perform some function. Some immunoglobulins also bind to receptors on placental trophoblasts, which results in transfer of the immunoglobulin across the placenta. As a result, the transferred maternal antibodies provide immunity to the fetus and newborn.


The basic structure of the immunoglobulins is illustrated in figure 2. Although different immunoglobulins can differ structurally, they all are built from the same basic units.

A. Heavy and Light Chains

All immunoglobulins have a four chain structure as their basic unit. They are composed of two identical light chains (23kD) and two identical heavy chains (50-70kD)

B. Disulfide bonds

1. Inter-chain disulfide bonds - The heavy and light chains and the two heavy chains are held together by inter-chain disulfide bonds and by non-covalent interactions The number of inter-chain disulfide bonds varies among different immunoglobulin molecules.

2. Intra-chain disulfide binds - Within each of the polypeptide chains there are also intra-chain disulfide bonds.

C. Variable (V) and Constant (C) Regions

When the amino acid sequences of many different heavy chains and light chains were compared, it became clear that both the heavy and light chain could be divided into two regions based on variability in the amino acid sequences. These are the:

1. Light Chain - VL (110 amino acids) and CL (110 amino acids)

2. Heavy Chain - VH (110 amino acids) and CH (330-440 amino acids)\(x = {-b \pm \sqrt{b^2-4ac} \over 2a}\)h the arms of the antibody molecule forms a Y. It is called the hinge region because there is some flexibility in the molecule at this point.

E. Domains

Three dimensional images of the immunoglobulin molecule show that it is not straight as depicted in figure 2A. Rather, it is folded into globular regions each of which contains an intra-chain disulfide bond (figure 2B-D). These regions are called domains.

1. Light Chain Domains - VL and CL

2. Heavy Chain Domains - VH, CH1 - CH3 (or CH4)

F. Oligosaccharides

Carbohydrates are attached to the CH2 domain in most immunoglobulins. However, in some cases carbohydrates may also be attached at other locations. 


Immunoglobulin fragments produced by proteolytic digestion –

A.  Fab 
Digestion with papain breaks the immunoglobulin molecule in the hinge region before the H-H inter-chain disulfide bond Figure 6. This results in the formation of two identical fragments that contain the light chain and the VH and CH1 domains of the heavy chain.

Antigen binding – These fragments are  called the Fab fragments because they contained the antigen binding sites of the antibody. Each Fab fragment is monovalent whereas the original molecule was divalent. The combining site of the antibody is created by both VH and VL. 

B. Fc 
Digestion with papain also produces a fragment that contains the remainder of the two heavy chains each containing a CH2 and CH3 domain. This fragment was called Fc because it was easily crystallized.

Effector functions – The effector functions of immunoglobulins are mediated by this part of the molecule. Different functions are mediated by the different domains in this fragment . 

Treatment of immunoglobulins with pepsin results in cleavage of the heavy chain after the H-H inter-chain disulfide bonds resulting in a fragment that contains both antigen binding sites . This fragment is called F(ab’)2because it is divalent. The Fc region of the molecule is digested into small peptides by pepsin. The F(ab’)2binds antigen but it does not mediate the effector functions of antibodies.


A substance that induces a specific immune response.

Antigen (Ag)
A substance that reacts with the products of a specific immune response.

A substance that is non-immunogenic but which can react with the products of a specific immune response. Haptens are small molecules which could never induce an immune response when administered by themselves but which can when coupled to a carrier molecule. Free haptens, however, can react with products of the immune response after such products have been elicited. Haptens have the property of antigenicity but not immunogenicity.

Epitope or Antigenic Determinant
That portion of an antigen that combines with the products of a specific immune response.

Antibody (Ab)
A specific protein which is produced in response to an immunogen and which reacts with an antigen.


- Larger the molecule the more immunogenic it is likely to be.

- More complex the substance is chemically the more immunogenic it will be.

- Particulate antigens are more immunogenic than soluble ones and denatured antigens more immunogenic than the native form.

- Antigens that are easily phagocytosed are generally more immunogenic. This is because for most antigens (T-dependant antigens, see below) the development of an immune response requires that the antigen be phagocytosed, processed and presented to helper T cells by an antigen presenting cell (APC).

- Some substances are immunogenic in one species but not in another. Similarly, some substances are immunogenic in one individual but not in others (i.e. responders and non-responders). The species or individuals may lack or have altered genes that code for the receptors for antigen on B cells and T cells or they may not have the appropriate genes needed for the APC to present antigen to the helper T cells.

Method of Administration

1. Dose
The dose of administration of an immunogen can influence its immunogenicity. There is a dose of antigen above or below which the immune response will not be optimal.

2. Route
Generally the subcutaneous route is better than the intravenous or intragastric routes. The route of antigen administration can also alter the nature of the response

3. Adjuvants
Substances that can enhance the immune response to an immunogen are called adjuvants. The use of adjuvants, however, is often hampered by undesirable side effects such as fever and inflammation.


T-independent Antigens
T-independent antigens are antigens which can directly stimulate the B cells to produce antibody without the requirement for T cell help In general, polysaccharides are T-independent antigens. The responses to these antigens differ from the responses to other antigens.
Properties of T-independent antigens

1. Polymeric structure
These antigens are characterized by the same antigenic determinant .

2. Polyclonal activation of B cells
Many of these antigens can activate B cell clones specific for other antigens (polyclonal activation). T-independent antigens can be subdivided into Type 1 and Type 2 based on their ability to polyclonally activate B cells. Type 1 T-independent antigens are polyclonal activators while Type 2 are not.

3. Resistance to degradation
T-independent antigens are generally more resistant to degradation and thus they persist for longer periods of time and continue to stimulate the immune system.

T-dependent Antigens
T-dependent antigens are those that do not directly stimulate the production of antibody without the help of T cells. Proteins are T-dependent antigens. Structurally these antigens are characterized by a few copies of many different antigenic determinants as illustrated in the Figure 2.


Hapten-carrier conjugates are immunogenic molecules to which haptens have been covalently attached. The immunogenic molecule is called the carrier.

Structurally these conjugates are characterized by having native antigenic determinants of the carrier as well as new determinants created by the hapten (haptenic determinants). The actual determinant created by the hapten consists of the hapten and a few of the adjacent residues, although the antibody produced to the determinant will also react with free hapten. In such conjugates the type of carrier determines whether the response will be T-independent or T-dependent.


When the immune system encounters a conventional T-dependent antigen, only a small fraction (1 in 104 -105) of the T cell population is able to recognize the antigen and become activated (monoclonal/oligoclonal response). However, there are some antigens which polyclonally activate a large fraction of the T cells (up to 25%). These antigens are called superantigens .

Examples of superantigens include: Staphylococcal enterotoxins (food poisoning), Staphylococcal toxic shock toxin (toxic shock syndrome), Staphylococcal exfoliating toxins (scalded skin syndrome) and Streptococcal pyrogenic exotoxins (shock).