Antigenic Competition


Antigenic competition is the name given to the phenomenon in which inhibition or diminution of the immune response to one antigen or determinant occurs following its administration in the presence of another antigen or determinant.

Keywords: antigenic competition; intermolecular competition; intramolecular competition

Figure 1.

The first step in the generation of an antibody response is the uptake of immunogen by antigen‐presenting cells (APC) (A). Complex antigens undergo proteolysis to form peptides, some of which are bound by major histocompatibility complex class II molecules and transported to the APC surface. Helper T cells that bear receptors capable of interacting with the peptide–class II complexes can then bind to the APC, an event that enables additional interactions through costimulatory molecules. These recognition events result in the transmission of activation signals to the T cell, one consequence of which leads to expression by the T cell of other costimulatory molecules on its surface (B). The activated T cell is now poised to respond to those B cells that display similar peptide–class II complexes on their surfaces, acquired as a result of internalization of the same immunogen through specific surface immunoglobulin receptors. It is this interaction between T cells and B cells that is termed ‘help’, and that results in triggering of the B cell to differentiate into a plasma cell capable of secreting antibody of the same specificity as that of the immunoglobulin receptor (C). Cytokines are also produced by each cell type shown which profoundly influence the type of immune response that is elicited.

Figure 2.

Competition for antigen capture by B cells. (a) When B cells expressing surface immunoglobulin specific for the haemagglutinin (HA) molecule and for the neuraminidase molecule (NA) are confronted with intact influenza virus particles, the virus is predominantly captured and internalized by those specific for HA due in part to the greater relative abundance of this molecule on the virion surface. The internalized antigen is processed and presented by the anti‐HA B cell to allow its interaction with helper T cells for expansion and differentiation. (b) When the same virus particle is solubilized, both HA and NA molecules are available for capture by surface immunoglobulin on B cells specific for these molecules.



Guery J‐C, Neagu M, Rogriguez‐Tarduchy G and Adorini L (1993) Selective immunosuppression by administration of major histocompatibility complex class II‐binding peptides II. Preventive inhibition of primary and secondary in vivo antibody responses. Journal of Experimental Medicine 177: 1461–1468.

Hunt JD, Jackson DC, Wood PR, Stewart DJ and Brown LE (1995) Immunological parameters associated with antigenic competition in a multivalent footrot vaccine. Vaccine 13: 1649–1657.

Johannson BE and Kilbourne ED (1993) Dissociation of influenza virus hemagglutinin and neuraminidase eliminates their intravirionic antigenic competition. Journal of Virology 67: 5721–5723.

Sercarz EE, Lehmann PV, Ametani A et al. (1993) Dominance and crypticity of T cell antigenic determinants. Annual Reviews in Immunology 11: 729–766.

Taussig MJ (1975) Antigenic competition. In: Hobart MJH and McConnell I (eds) The Immune System: A Course on the Molecular and Cellular Basis of Immunity, Oxford: Blackwell Scientificl, pp. 165–178.

Further Reading

Adorini L and Nagy ZA (1990) Peptide competition for antigen presentation. Immunology Today 11: 21–24.

Heyman B (1990) The immune complex: possible ways of regulating the antibody response. Immunology Today 11: 310–313.

Hunt JD, Brown LE, Wood PR, Stewart DJ and Jackson DC (1996) Manipulation of the helper T‐cell response to influence antigenic competition occurring with a multivalent vaccine. Immunology and Cell Biology 74: 81–89.

Pross HF and Eidinger D (1974) Antigenic competition: a review of non‐specific antigen‐induced suppression. Advances in Immunology 18: 133–168.

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Hunt, Jacqueline D, Brown, Lorena E, and Jackson, David C(Apr 2001) Antigenic Competition. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. [doi: 10.1038/npg.els.0000948]