Constantin A Bona, Department of Microbiology, Mount Sinai Medical School, New York, USA

About 50 years ago, it was demonstrated that antibody molecules bear antigenic determinants similar to foreign antigens and they can be defined by immunoglobulin (Ig)-specific sera prepared in xenogeneic or allogeneic animals. These studies led to the definition of two types of antigenic determinants called isotypic and allotypic specificities.

In 1955, Slater and coworkers studied the specificity of antisera prepared in rabbits against human myeloma proteins. They observed that such antisera still reacted with the initial immunogen after extensive absorptions on unrelated myeloma proteins or normal immunoglobulins. This new category of antigenic determinants was called 'individual' antigenic specificities. Several years later, Oudin and Kunkel described several antigen specificities on rabbit and human antibodies. Oudin coined the term 'idiotype' from the Greek - which means 'identical form' - for this new antigen borne by immunoglobulins.

Further immunochemical studies localized the idiotypic determinants initially on Fab fragments and later on Fv fragments. These studies led to the conclusion that the idiotypes are markers of variable genes encoding the specificity of antibodies or of the immunoglobulin receptor of clones exhibiting the same antigen-recognizing specificities. Studies conducted in the early 1980s showed that idiotypic determinants can also be serologically defined on the antigen receptor of T cells.

It is now generally accepted that the idiotype represents the antigenic determinants of variable regions or phenotypic markers of variable region genes encoding the specificity of a lymphocyte antigen receptor. Each individual antigenic determinant which makes up the idiotype of a given receptor is termed an idiotope.

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