Two views, one rotated 90 degrees with respect to the other, of the amino acid chains comprising secretory IgA1. Colors are: H-chains (blue and light blue), L-chains (red and light red), J-chain (magenta) and the secretory component (yellow). Coordinates of each backbone carbon atom were derived PDB entry 3CHN.
Two views, one rotated 90 degrees with respect to the other, of the amino acid chains comprising secretory IgA2. Colors are: H-chains (blue and light blue), L-chains (red and light red), J-chain (magenta) and the secretory component (yellow). Coordinates of each backbone carbon atom were derived PDB entry 3cm9.
Immunoglobulin A (IgA, also referred to as sIgA in its secretory form) is an antibody that plays a crucial role in the immune function of mucous membranes. The amount of IgA produced in association with mucosal membranes is greater than all other types of antibody combined. In absolute terms, between three and five grams are secreted into the intestinal lumen each day. This represents up to 15% of total immunoglobulins produced throughout the body.
IgA exists in two isotypes, IgA1 and IgA2. They are both heavily glycosylated proteins. While IgA1 predominates in serum (~80%), IgA2 percentages are higher in secretions than in serum (~35% in secretions); the ratio of IgA1 and IgA2 secreting cells varies in the different lymphoid tissues of the human body:
IgA1 is the predominant IgA subclass found in serum. Most lymphoid tissues have a predominance of IgA1-producing cells.
In IgA2, the heavy and light chains are not linked with disulfide, but with noncovalent bonds. In secretory lymphoid tissues (e.g., gut-associated lymphoid tissue, or GALT), the share of IgA2 production is larger than in the non-secretory lymphoid organs (e.g. spleen, peripheral lymph nodes).
Both IgA1 and IgA2 have been found in external secretions like colostrum, maternal milk, tears and saliva, where IgA2 is more prominent than in the blood.
Polysaccharide antigens tend to induce more IgA2 than protein antigens.
It is also possible to distinguish forms of IgA based upon their location - serum IgA vs. secretory IgA.
In secretory IgA, the form found in secretions, polymers of 2-4 IgA monomers are linked by two additional chains; as such, the molecular weight of slgA is 385,000D. One of these is the J chain (joining chain), which is a polypeptide of molecular mass 15kD, rich with cysteine and structurally completely different from other immunoglobulin chains. This chain is formed in the IgA-secreting cells.
The oligomeric forms of IgA in the external (mucosal) secretions also contain a polypeptide of a much larger molecular mass (70 kD) called the secretory component that is produced by epithelial cells. This molecule originates from the poly-Ig receptor (130 kD) that is responsible for the uptake and transcellular transport of oligomeric (but not monomeric) IgA across the epithelial cells and into secretions such as tears, saliva, sweat and gut fluid.
The high prevalence of IgA in mucosal areas is a result of a cooperation between plasma cells that produce polymeric IgA (pIgA), and mucosal epithelial cells that express an immunoglobulin receptor called the polymeric Ig receptor (pIgR). pIgA is released from the nearby activated plasma cells and binds to pIgR. This results in transportation of IgA across mucosal epithelial cells and its cleavage from pIgR for release into external secretions.
Polymeric IgA (mainly the secretory dimer) is produced by plasma cells in the lamina propria adjacent to mucosal surfaces. It binds to the polymeric immunoglobulin receptor on the basolateral surface of epithelial cells, and is taken up into the cell via endocytosis. The receptor-IgA complex passes through the cellular compartments before being secreted on the luminal surface of the epithelial cells, still attached to the receptor. Proteolysis of the receptor occurs, and the dimeric IgA molecule, along with a portion of the receptor known as the secretory component, are free to diffuse throughout the lumen. In the gut, IgA can bind to the mucus layer covering the epithelial cells. In this way, a barrier capable of neutralizing threats before they reach the epithelial cells is formed.
sIgA primarily acts by blockading epithelial receptors (e.g. by binding their ligands on pathogens), by sterically hindering attachment to epithelial cells, and by immune exclusion. Since sIgA is a poor opsonin and activator of complement, simply binding a pathogen isn't necessarily enough to contain it—specific epitopes may have to be bound to sterically hinder access to the epithelium.
Immune exclusion is a process of agglutinating polyvalent antigens or pathogens by crosslinking them with antibody, trapping them in the mucus layer, and/or clearing them peristaltically. The oligosaccharide chains of the component of IgA can associate with the mucus layer that sits atop epithelial cells.
Anti-IgA antibodies, sometimes present in individuals with low or absent IgA, can result in serious anaphylactic reactions when transfused with blood products that incidentally contain IgA. However, most persons with suspected IgA anaphylactic reactions had experienced acute generalized reactions that were from causes other than anti-IgA transfusion.
IgA nephropathy is caused by IgA deposits in the kidneys. It is not yet known why IgA deposits occur in this chronic disease. Some theories suggest an abnormality of the immune system results in these deposits.
Henoch–Schönlein purpura (HSP) is a systemic disorder caused by deposits of IgA and complement component 3 (C3) in the small vessels. HSP occurs usually in small children and involves the skin and connective tissues, scrotum, joints, gastrointestinal tract and kidneys. It usually follows an upper respiratory infection and resolves within a couple weeks as the liver clears out the IgA aggregates.
Linear IgA bullous dermatosis and IgA pemphigus are two examples of IgA-mediated immunobullous diseases. IgA-mediated immunobullous diseases can often be difficult to treat even with usually effective medications such as rituximab.
Vancomycin can induce a linear IgA bullous dermatosis in some patients.
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