Paolo Casali, Division of Molecular Immunology, Department of Pathology, Cornell University Medical College and Immunology Program, Cornell University Graduate School of Medical Sciences, New York, USA

Copyright © 1998 Elsevier Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

Antibodies of the IgM class are the first immunoglobulins (Ig) appearing in the phylogeny and ontogeny of the immune system. Due to their predominance in large animals immunized with certain pathogenic bacteria for the purpose of generating protective antibodies, IgM were the first Ig separated to near absolute homogeneity. Although their concentration in the circulating blood is almost ten times lower (approximately 1.5 mgml"1) than that of the most represented Ig class, IgG, IgM play a major role in both the afferent and effector branches of the immune response. For instance, they serve as specific receptors for antigens on the surface of B lymphocytes, they constitute the major component of the primary antibody response to a specific antigen, and they efficiently activate the complement cascade, thereby enhancing opsonization of particulate antigens, such as bacteria and viruses.

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