Transfer Factors

Charles H Kirkpatrick, University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, Denver, Colorado, USA

Copyright © 1998 Elsevier Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

Transfer factors are proteinaceous molecules that 'transfer' the ability to express cell-mediated immunity from sensitized donors to unimmunized recipients. Administration of a transfer factor does not activate antibody production by the recipient and does not prime the recipients for anamnestic responses when the appropriate antigen is administered. The immunologic activities of transfer factors are antigen specific.

Transfer factors may have applications in clinical medicine as a mechanism for inducing effective cellmediated immune responses against infectious microorganisms and, possibly, tumor cells.

The phenomenon of transfer factors was first described by H. S. Lawrence in the mid-1950s when he reported that lysates of peripheral blood lymphocytes from donors who had delayed-type hypersensitivity to antigens such as tuberculin, streptococcal M protein or diphtheria toxoid could transfer delayed-type hypersensitivity to recipients who had been shown to be unresponsive to these antigens. Later, Lawrence and associates showed that the substance that was responsible for transferring the reactivities was dialyzable through membranes with a cut-off value of 12 kDa.

There were several reasons why Lawrence's experiments were questioned by other investigators. First, in his studies in humans the recipients were tested for delayed hypersensitivity to identify candidates for the study; there was concern that these skin tests could prime recipients to respond to the antigen after treatment with the transfer factor. Second, at the time, it was difficult to comprehend immunologic specificity of molecules with molecular weights of <12 kDa. Third, Lawrence's observations were in conflict with results of similar experiments in guinea pigs.

Although the mechanisms of action of transfer factors have not yet been defined, most of Lawrence's findings, including specificity, have been confirmed independently by subsequent studies.

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