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N Biotechnol. 2009 Jun;25(5):294-8. doi: 10.1016/j.nbt.2009.03.016. Epub 2009 Apr 11.

Natural antibodies and cancer.

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  • 1Institute of Pathology, University of Würzburg, Josef-Schneider-Str. 2, D-97080 Würzburg, Germany. <>


The innate or natural immunity is the basis and key for all immune processes. Specific receptors on macrophages, dendrites, NK cells and natural antibodies producing B cells act as a first line defense and remove all 'foreign' and potentially harmful substances, that is, bacteria, viruses, cellular waste, modified molecules and, most importantly, cancer cells. Recognition and removal of transformed cells is a lifelong task of immune surveillance processes. Antibodies are hallmark components of this anti-cancer activity. To investigate their nature, specificity, and function, we used the human hybridoma technology for isolating antibodies from cancer patients. These were then tested with a panel of assays against cancer cell lines in vitro and in vivo. Interestingly, all the tumor-specific antibodies we found were germ-line coded and belonged nearly exclusively to the IgM class. Furthermore, they all bound to new carbohydrates on post-translationally modified cell surface receptors on malignant cells. So far no affinity maturated immunoglobulins detecting tumor-specific peptides were found. However, only the presentation of peptide motifs can create an immunological memory. In general malignant cells are detected at very early precursor stages and manifest tumors can be considered as exceptional events. In addition, malignant cells are neither infectious nor hide intracellularly like viruses and some bacteria. Therefore, it makes sense that anti-tumor immunity seems to be solely a part of the natural immunity and a memory is not needed and therefore not induced. This indicates that the tumor immunity seems to be restricted to innate immune mechanisms and the instruments used by nature, like natural antibodies, are obviously excellent therapeutics.

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