The lock and key model of antigen-antibody reaction has traditionally been used to explain the specificity of antibodies and the need for antibody diversity. Recently it has become clear that certain antibodies are polyreactive and recognize a variety of self- and foreign antigens. It is now clear that there antibodies are made by a novel subset of B cells that bear the surface CD5 marker. Careful analysis has shown that about 20% of peripheral blood B lymphocytes in adults are CD5+ and, therefore, represent a major component of the normal human B-cell repertoire. The precise role of the antibodies produced by these cells is still not clear, but because of their polyreactivity they might function in clearing autoantigens from the circulation and/or as a rapid first line of defense against foreign invaders, such as bacteria and viruses. Sequence analysis showed that these antibodies use gene segments in germ-line configuration for their antigen-binding portion. In this article, Paolo Casali and Abner Notkins propose that polyreactive antibodies are what, for years, have been referred to as the 'natural antibodies' of serum and that under certain circumstances they may contribute to the pathogenesis of autoimmune diseases.
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