In immunology, antigens (Ag) are structures (aka substances) specifically bound by antibodies (Ab) or a cell surface version of Ab ~ B cell antigen receptor (BCR). The term antigen originally described a structural molecule that binds specifically to an antibody only in the form of native antigen. It was expanded later to refer to any molecule or a linear molecular fragment after processing the native antigen that can be recognized by T-cell receptor (TCR). BCR and TCR are both highly variable antigen receptors diversified by somatic V(D)J recombination. Both T cells and B cells are cellular components of adaptive immunity. The Ag abbreviation stands for an antibody generator. Antigens are "targeted" by antibodies. Each antibody is specifically produced by the immune system to match an antigen after cells in the immune system come into contact with it; this allows a precise identification or matching of the antigen and the initiation of a tailored response. The antibody is said to "match" the antigen in the sense that it can bind to it due to an adaptation in a region of the antibody; because of this, many different antibodies are produced, each able to bind a different antigen while sharing the same basic structure. In most cases, an adapted antibody can only react to and bind one specific antigen; in some instances, however, antibodies may cross-react and bind more than one antigen. Also, an antigen is a molecule that binds to Ag-specific receptors, but cannot necessarily induce an immune response in the body by itself. Antigens are usually proteins, peptides (amino acid chains) and polysaccharides (chains of monosaccharides/simple sugars) but lipids and nucleic acids become antigens only when combined with proteins and polysaccharides. In general, saccharides and lipids (as opposed to peptides) qualify as antigens but not as immunogens since they cannot elicit an immune response on their own. Furthermore, for a peptide to induce an immune response (activation of T-cells by antigen-presenting cells) it must be a large enough size, since peptides too small will also not elicit an immune response. The antigen may originate from within the body ("self-antigen") or from the external environment ("non-self"). The immune system is supposed to identify and attack "non-self" invaders from the outside world or modified/harmful substances present in the body and usually does not react to self-antigens under normal homeostatic conditions due to negative selection of T cells in the thymus. Vaccines are examples of antigens in an immunogenic form, which are intentionally administered to a recipient to induce the memory function of adaptive immune system toward the antigens of the pathogen invading that recipient.


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