An antigen, is a substance when introduced into the body, stimulates an immune system response, especially the production of antibodies. Antigens can be bacteria, viruses, cells of transplanted organs, and toxins.
See also: Antibodies
When an antigen is introduced into the body it causes the production of antibodies. Antigens can include bacteria, cells of transplanted organs, and toxins. Strictly speaking, an antigen is any substance that can stimulate the production of antibodies and combine specifically with them. For example, antigen A stimulates the production of anti-A antibodies, and antigen B stimulates the production of anti-B antibodies. It is important to note that antigens stimulate production of antibodies and do not directly produce them. Antibodies are what determine whether or not a blood transfusion recipient will have an adverse reaction to the donor's blood. A person with blood type B for example, will have anti-A antibodies (reject blood type A as well as blood type AB-due to the presence of antigen-A in blood type AB) and as a result, could only safely accept blood from a donor with blood type B or blood type O (O negative blood types are considered the universal donor).
Topics of Interest
An antigen (from antibody generator) originally defined as any molecule that binds specifically to an antibody, the term now also refers to any molecule or molecular fragment that can be bound by an MHC molecule (see below) and presented to a T-cell receptor. "Self" antigens are usually tolerated by the immune system; whereas "Non-self" antigens are identified as intruders and attacked by the immune system. Autoimmune disorders arise from the immune system reacting to its own antigens.
Similarly, an immunogen is a specific type of antigen. An immunogen is defined as a substance that is able to provoke an adaptive immune response if injected on its own. Said another way, an immunogen is able to induce an immune response, while an antigen is able to combine with the products of an immune response once they are made.
At the molecular level, an antigen is characterized by its ability to be "bound" at the antigen-binding site of an antibody. Note also that antibodies tend to discriminate between the specific molecular structures presented on the surface of the antigen. Antigens are usually proteins or polysaccharides. This includes parts (coats, capsules, cell walls, flagella, fimbrae, and toxins) of bacteria, viruses, and other microorganisms. Lipids and nucleic acids are antigenic only when combined with proteins and polysaccharides. Non-microbial exogenous (non-self) antigens can include pollen, egg white, and proteins from transplanted tissues and organs or on the surface of transfused blood cells. Vaccines are examples of immunogenic antigens intentionally administered to induce acquired immunity in the recipient.
Cells present their immunogenic-antigens to the immune system via a histocompatibility molecule. Depending on the antigen presented and the type of the histocompatibility molecule, several types of immune cells can become activated.
The major histocompatibility complex (MHC) is a large genomic region or gene family found in most vertebrates. It is the most gene-dense region of the mammalian genome and plays an important role in the immune system and autoimmunity. The diversity of MHC is important in the immune diversity in the population. The proteins encoded by the MHC are expressed on the surface of cells in all jawed vertebrates, and display both self antigens (peptide fragments from the cell itself) and nonself antigens (e.g., fragments of invading microorganisms) to a type of white blood cell called a T cell that has the capacity to kill or co-ordinate the killing of pathogens and infected or malfunctioning cells.
The human leukocyte antigen system (HLA) is the name of the major histocompatibility complex (MHC) in humans. The superlocus contains a large number of genes related to immune system function in humans. This group of genes resides on chromosome 6, and encodes cell-surface antigen-presenting proteins and many other genes. The HLA genes are the human versions of the MHC genes that are found in most vertebrates (and thus are the most studied of the MHC genes). The proteins encoded by certain genes are also known as antigens, as a result of their historic discovery as factors in organ transplantations. The major HLA antigens are essential elements for immune function.
Tumor antigens or Neoantigens are those antigens that are presented by MHC I or MHC II molecules on the surface of tumor cells. These antigens can sometimes be presented by tumor cells and never by the normal ones. In this case, they are called tumor-specific antigens (TSAs) and, in general, result from a tumor-specific mutation. More common are antigens that are presented by tumor cells and normal cells, and they are called tumor-associated antigens (TAAs). Cytotoxic T lymphocytes that recognize these antigens may be able to destroy the tumor cells before they proliferate or metastasize.
In 1899 Ladislas Deutsch (Detre) (1874-1939) named the hypothetical substances halfway between bacterial constituents and antibodies "substances immunogenes ou antigenes". He originally believed those substances to be precursors of antibodies, just like zymogen is a precursor of zymase. But by 1903 he understood that an antigen induces the production of immune bodies (antibodies) and wrote that the word antigen was a contraction of "Antisomatogen = Immunkörperbildner". The Oxford English Dictionary indicates that the logical construction should be "anti(body)-gen".
Source: Wikipedia (All text is available under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License and Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License.)