Mapping antibodies

Every person appears to have a completely unique immune system. The way our immune system responds to pathogens varies from person to person. Researchers at Utrecht University and UMC Utrecht, including our core team member Albert Heck, discovered that each person develops a unique arsenal of antibodies, which are proteins produced as part of the body's immune response to infection. Also, the concentration of these proteins changes in a unique way during illness or after a vaccination.

The team discovered the diversity when they monitored antibodies in the blood of healthy and seriously ill individuals. The researchers analyzed the concentrations of all co-appearing antibodies in the blood. They discovered that there was no overlap whatsoever in this respect between the blood samples of the people investigated. The composition and concentrations of the antibodies were completely different in each person. The concentrations of antibodies also appeared to rise and fall in a unique way during illness. The antibodies themselves also differed. Even antibodies that were aimed to target the exact same pathogens appeared to differ slightly at a molecular level.

Until now, this distinctiveness had not been noticed. The team developed an extremely sensitive analysis that reveals minute differences in mixtures of antibodies. The method is a refinement of mass spectrometry. 

The results of this study may help explain why some people are more prone to becoming ill, or why they recover faster from illness than others. Extreme diversity in immune responses could also create new possibilities for personalized treatments and vaccinations. Results have been published in the journal Cell Systems.

“Human plasma IgG1 repertoires are simple, unique, and dynamic”

NWO logoThis research was (partially) funded by NWO, project 184.034.019