substances which are capable, under appropriate conditions, of inducing a specific immune response and of reacting with the products of that response, that is, with specific antibodies or specifically sensitised t-lymphocytes, or both. antigens may be soluble substances, such as toxins and foreign proteins, or particulates, such as bacteria and tissue cells; however, only the portion of the protein or polysaccharide molecule known as the antigenic determinant (epitopes) combines with antibody or a specific receptor on a lymphocyte.
endogenous antigens endogenous antigens are antigens that have been generated within the cell, as a result of normal cell metabolism, or because of viral or intracellular bacterial infection. The fragments are then presented on the cell surface in the complex with class i histocompatibility molecules. If activated cytotoxic CD8 t cells recognize them, the t cells begin to secrete different toxins that cause the lysis or apoptosis of the infected cell. In order to keep the cytotoxic cells from killing cells just for presenting self-proteins, self-reactive t cells are deleted from the repertoire as a result of central tolerance (also known as negative selection which occurs in the thymus). Only those CTL that do not react to self-peptides that are presented in the thymus in the context of mhc class i molecules are allowed to enter the bloodstream.
there is an exception to the exogenous/endogenous antigen paradigm, called cross-presentation.
Autoantigens An autoantigen is usually a normal protein or complex of proteins (and sometimes dna or RNA) that is recognized by the immune system of patients suffering from a specific autoimmune disease. These antigens should under normal conditions not be the target of the immune system, but due to mainly genetic and environmental factors the normal immunological tolerance for such an antigen has been lost in these patients.
tumor antigens tumor antigens are those antigens that are presented by the mhc i molecules on the surface of tumor cells. These antigens can sometimes be presented only by tumor cells and never by the normal ones. In this case, they are called tumor-specific antigens (TSAs) and typically result from a tumor specific mutation. More common are antigens that are presented by tumor cells and normal cells, and they are called tumor-associated antigens (TAAs). cytotoxic t lymphocytes that recognized these antigens may be able to destroy the tumor cells before they proliferate or metastasize.
tumor antigens can also be on the surface of the tumor in the form of, for example, a mutated receptor, in which case they will be recognized by B cells.