Keyhole limpet hemocyanin (KLH): a biomedical review

Micron. 1999 Dec;30(6):597-623. doi: 10.1016/s0968-4328(99)00036-0.


In this review we present a broad survey of fundamental scientific and medically applied studies on keyhole limpet hemocyanin (KLH). Commencing with the biochemistry of KLH, information on the biosynthesis and biological role of this copper-containing respiratory protein in the marine gastropod Megathura crenulata is provided. The established methods for the purification of the two isoforms of KLH (KLH1 and KLH2) are then covered, followed by detailed accounts of the molecular mass determination, functional unit (FU) structure, carbohydrate content, immunological analysis and recent aspects of the molecular genetics of KLH. The transmission electron microscope (TEM) has contributed significantly to the understanding of KLH structure, primarily from negatively stained images. We give a brief account of TEM studies on the native KLH oligomers, the experimental manipulation of the oligomeric states, together with immunolabelling data and studies on subunit reassociation. The field of cellular immunology has provided much relevant biomedical information on KLH and has led to the expansion of use of KLH in experimental immunology and clinically as an immunotherapeutic agent; this area is presented in some detail. The major clinical use of KLH is specifically for the treatment of bladder carcinoma, with efficacy probably due to a cross-reacting carbohydrate epitope. KLH also has considerable possibilities for the treatment of other carcinomas, in particular the epithelially derived adenocarciomas, when used as a carrier for carcinoma ganglioside and mucin-like epitopes. The widespread use of KLH as a hapten carrier and generalised vaccine component represent other major on-going aspects of KLH research, together with its use for the diagnosis of Schistosomiasis, drug assay and the treatment of drug addiction. Immune competence testing, assessment of stress and the understanding of inflammatory conditions are other areas where KLH is also making a useful contribution to medical research.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adjuvants, Immunologic*
  • Animals
  • Antigens
  • Carcinoma / therapy
  • Hemocyanins*
  • Immunoconjugates
  • Mollusca
  • Urinary Bladder Neoplasms / therapy
  • Vaccines / immunology


  • Adjuvants, Immunologic
  • Antigens
  • Immunoconjugates
  • Vaccines
  • Hemocyanins
  • keyhole-limpet hemocyanin