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#207 20/10/00

Antibody's treachery

In the UK- scientific magazine, " New Scientist" #2259 dated 7th October 2000, the " Mere Old Man" came across a very strange article (page 11). It was about the possibility of antibodies having a talent for destruction that they've managed to keep well hidden till now.

Let the " Mere Old Man" quote the " Encyclopedia of Medicine" published by the American Medical Association. It says that " antibody is a protein that is manufactured by lymphocytes to neutralize an antigen (foreign protein) in the body." Bacteria, viruses, and other microorganisms commonly contain many antigens.

So, just like he wrote in his previous homepage (#206E) about the traitor macrophage, it is basically supposed to protect us.

Now, let him quote the article of the " New Scientist" as follows:

" Antibodies may play a much more active role in preventing --- and causing --- diseases than previously thought. They have always seen as scouts rather than soldiers. Immunologists believe they latch onto foreign cells, viruses or proteins, but rely on other parts of the immune system such as white blood cells to finish them off.

" But while P. Wentworth, K. Janda and other colleagues at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California, were studying an antibody, they found that it could produce hydrogen peroxide, which can destroy cells and viruses. They then checked 39 other antibodies, including ones from mice, rats, hamsters, rabbits, sheep, goats, horses and humans. Every one could produce hydrogen peroxide. 'We certainly did not expect antibodies to have this amazing ability,' says Wentworth.

" Further tests showed that the antibodies convert a form of dissolved oxygen known as singlet molecular oxygen into a highly reactive type that spontaneously forms hydrogen peroxide. Intriguingly, singlet molecular oxygen is also created as an inactive by-product when white blood cells attack invading microbes with a spray of hydrogen perioxide and other related chemicals.

" This suggests that antibodies might add extra punch to these attacks by 'recycling' the oxygen back into hydrogen peroxide. But this also means that antibodies could exacerbate the problems caused by immune cell overactivity, such as autoimmune diseases.

" 'It is startling observation,' says Donald Landry of Columbia University in New York, who studies antibodies. He says this unexpected dual role for antibodies shows how well evolution has tuned the immune system.

Now, back to hydrogen peroxide, the said encyclopedia says, " It is an antiseptic solution used to treat infections of skin or mouth and to bleach hair. Hydrogen peroxide combines with catalase, an enzyme present in the skin and mouth, to release oxygen. This effect kills bacteria and cleanses infected areas. It occasionally causes soreness and irritation."

Around the end of September, somewhere in Tokyo, a tanker carrying a lot of hydrogen peroxide exploded and some 30 odd people were injured and hospitalized. As far as the " Mere Old Man" knows, hydrogen peroxide is also used as fuel for rockets --- very dangerous substance.


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