Any of numerous proteins produced by B lymphocytes in response to the presence of specific foreign antigens, including microorganisms and toxins. Antibodies consist of two pairs of polypeptide chains, called heavy chains and light chains, that are arranged in a Y-shape. The two tips of the Y are the regions that bind to antigens and deactivate them. Also called immunoglobulin
A Closer Look Like other vertebrates, humans possess an effective immune system that uses antibodies to fight bacteria, viruses, and cancer cells. Antibodies are complex, Y-shaped protein molecules. The immune system's B lymphocytes, which are produced by the bone marrow, develop into plasma cells that can generate a huge variety of antibodies, each one capable of combining with and destroying an antigen, a foreign molecule. Antibodies react to very specific characteristics of different antigens, binding them to the top ends of their Y formation. Once the antibody and antigen combine, the antibodies deactivate the antigen or lead it to macrophages(a kind of white blood cell) that ingest and destroy it. High numbers of a particular antibody may persist for months after an invasion, eventually diminishing. However, the B cells can quickly manufacture more of the same antibody if exposure to the antigen recurs. Vaccines work by “training” B cells to recognize and react quickly to potential disease molecules.