A hapten is a chemical substance with a well‐defined stereochemical configuration that can bind to specific antibodies but is unable to elicit detectable immune responses unless it is coupled chemically to an immunogenic carrier molecule. Hapten studies have led the way to our contemporary understanding of numerous fundamental mechanisms in molecular and cellular immunology.

Keywords: hapten; carrier; idiotype; vaccine; hypersensitivity

Figure 1.

Schematic drawing based on a crystallographic model of the interaction of vitamin K1OH (bold outline) with human IgG myeloma protein ‘NEW’. There is a very close fit between the combining region of the IgG molecule and the vitamin K1OH which fits into a shallow groove or crevice between the light and heavy chains of the protein. At least 12 amino acids of the IgG are in contact with the ligand. Photograph courtesy of Roberto J. Poljak. Reprinted with permission of Elsevier Science from Poljak RJ, Amzel LM and Phizackerley RP (1976) Studies on the three‐dimensional structure of immunoglobulins. Progress in Biophysics and Molecular Biology31: 67–93.



Amzel AM, Poljak RJ, Saul F, Varga JM and Richards FF (1974) The three dimensional structure of a combining region–ligand complex of immunoglobulin NEW at 3.5Åresolution. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA 71: 1427–1430.

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Landry DW and Yang GX (1997) Anti‐cocaine catalytic antibodies – a novel approach to the problem of addiction. Journal of Addictive Diseases 16: 1–17.

Landsteiner K (1921) Über heterogenetisches antigen und hapten. XV. Mitteilung über antigene. Biochemische Zeitschrift 119: 294–306.

Landsteiner K (1962) The Specificity of Serological Reactions, revised edition. New York: Dover Publications.

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Further Reading

Nisonoff A (1991) Idiotypes: concepts and applications. Journal of Immunology 147: 2429–2438.

Kabat EA (1976) Structural Concepts in Immunology and Immunochemistry, 2nd edn. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.

Pressman D and Grossberg AL (1968) The Structural Basis of Antibody Specificity. New York: WA Benjamin.

Smithrud DB and Benkovic SJ (1997) The state of antibody catalysis. Current Opinion in Biotechnology 8: 459–466.

Strong RK, Campbell R, Rose DR, Petsko GA, Sharon J and Margolies MN (1991) Three‐dimensional structure of murine anti‐p‐azophenylarsonate Fab 36‐71. 1. X‐ray crystallography, site‐directed mutagenesis, and modeling of the complex with hapten. Biochemistry 30: 3739–3748.

Wentworth P and Janda KD (1998) Catalytic antibodies. Current Opinion in Chemical Biology 2: 138–144.

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Rodkey, L Scott, and Nisonoff, Alfred(Apr 2001) Haptens. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. http://www.els.net [doi: 10.1038/npg.els.0000936]