Heterophile Antigen: Examples, Diagnostic Applications

By Acharya Tankeshwar •  Updated: 06/21/21 •  2 min read

Common antigens (or antigens of similar nature) that are possessed by a variety of phylogenetically unrelated species are known as heterophile antigens.

Antibodies induced by these antigens cross-react with individual heterophilic antigens, such antibodies are known as heterophile antibodies i.e. antibodies produced against an antigen of one species can react with the other and vice versa.

The term heterophile antibody applies to antibodies having the capacity to react with certain antigens, which are quite different from, and phylogenetically unrelated to the one which evoked antibody response.

Heterophile antigens are involved in the pathogenesis of certain diseases, such as infectious mononucleosis, rheumatic fever, glomerulonephritis, etc.

Antigen of Group A beta-hemolytic streptococci (Streptococcus pyogenes) and antigens of the human myocardium are heterophilic. So in rheumatic fever, antibodies against group A streptococcal cell walls cross-react with human cardiolipin antigens and thus damage human heart tissues.

Forssman antigen is another example of heterophile antigen. It is a lipid carbohydrate complex (glycolipid) widely distributed in man, animals, birds, plants and bacteria. Forssman antigen was named after the Swedish pathologist John F. Forssman who reported, ‘antibodies produced in rabbits against organ homogenates from guinea pigs reacted with sheep erythrocytes, causing hemolysis’.

Diagnostic Applications of Heterophilic Test

Heterophilic antigens can be used in various serologic tests. Antibody against one antigen can be detected in the patient’s serum by employing a different antigen which is heterophile (cross-reactive) to the first antigen.

Acharya Tankeshwar

Hello, thank you for visiting my blog. I am Tankeshwar Acharya. Blogging is my passion. As an asst. professor, I am teaching microbiology and immunology to medical and nursing students at PAHS, Nepal. I have been working as a microbiologist at Patan hospital for more than 10 years.

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