Antigenic variation refers to the mechanism by which an infectious organism such as a protozoan, bacterium or virus alters its surface proteins in order to evade a host immune response. Immune evasion is particularly important for organisms that target long-lived hosts, repeatedly infect a single host and are easily transmittable.
Antigenic variation not only enables immune evasion by the pathogen, but also allows the microbes to cause re-infection, as their antigens are no longer recognized by the host's immune system. When an organism is exposed to a particular antigen (i.e. a protein on the surface of a bacterium) an immune response is stimulated and antibodies are generated to target that specific antigen.
The immune system will then "remember" that particular antigen, and defenses aimed at that antigen become part of the immune system’s acquired immune response. If the same pathogen tries to re-infect the same host the antibodies will act rapidly to target the pathogen for destruction.
However, if the pathogen can alter its surface antigens, it can evade the host's acquired immune system. This will allow the pathogen to re-infect the host while the immune system generates new antibodies to target the newly identified antigen. Antigenic variation can occur by altering a variety of surface molecules including proteins and carbohydrates.
There are many molecular mechanisms behind antigenic variation, including gene conversion, site-specific DNA inversions, hypermutation, as well as recombination of sequence cassettes. In all cases, antigenic variation and phase variation, a type of antigenic variation, result in a heterogenic phenotype of a clonal population. Individual cells either express the phase-variable protein(s) or express one of multiple antigenic forms of the protein. This form of regulation has been identified mainly, but not exclusively, for a wide variety of surface structures in pathogens and is implicated as a virulence strategy.
This site complies with the HONcode standard for trustworthy health information.
The Content on this Site is presented in a summary fashion, and is intended to be used for educational and entertainment purposes only. It is not intended to be and should not be interpreted as medical advice or a diagnosis of any health or fitness problem, condition or disease; or a recommendation for a specific test, doctor, care provider, procedure, treatment plan, product, or course of action. Med Help International, Inc. is not a medical or healthcare provider and your use of this Site does not create a doctor / patient relationship. We disclaim all responsibility for the professional qualifications and licensing of, and services provided by, any physician or other health providers posting on or otherwise referred to on this Site and/or any Third Party Site. Never disregard the medical advice of your physician or health professional, or delay in seeking such advice, because of something you read on this Site. We offer this Site AS IS and without any warranties. By using this Site you agree to the following Terms and Conditions. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your physician or 911 immediately.