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Int Immunol. 2013 Feb;25(2):77-90. doi: 10.1093/intimm/dxs093. Epub 2012 Sep 11.

Limited conformational flexibility in the paratope may be responsible for degenerate specificity of HIV epitope recognition.

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National Institute of Immunology, Aruna Asaf Ali Marg, New Delhi 110067, India.


Exquisite specificity is the hallmark of antigen-antibody recognition. However, breakdown in the specific recognition potential culminating in the binding to multiple antigens by a single antibody has been observed, even after the maturation of the humoral response. While such a broad specificity may be expected to assist the host to counter the antigenic variations associated with an immune-evading pathogen, escape from immune surveillance by subtle epitopic mutations in pathogens like HIV and influenza virus has been clearly established. In the light of this dichotomy, the issues of degeneracy/specificity in the humoral response against such epitopes were analysed using three HIV-neutralizing epitopes and their variants as a model system. Cross-reactivity was observed in the polyclonal response against two of the epitopes. Multi-reactive mAb KEL10 was isolated against one of the epitopes, ELDKWA from this response. It is evident that even after the affinity maturation, antibodies showing binding to multiple variants of an immunizing peptide epitope existed. Binding kinetics and in silico structural analyses indicated that conserved interactions across epitopes and limited conformational flexibility in the paratope may account for the observed multi-reactivity. Though the affinity maturation process is expected to incorporate an extent of specificity to the paratope, there appear to be still some B-cell clones producing antibodies with subtle flexibility in their binding site, as demonstrated in case of KEL10. Generation of such antibodies against effective immunogens could be a possible approach for countering the antibody neutralization escape by various immune-evading pathogens.

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