Secretory antibody formation: conserved binding interactions between J chain and polymeric Ig receptor from humans and amphibians

J Immunol. 2007 Feb 1;178(3):1589-97. doi: 10.4049/jimmunol.178.3.1589.


Abs of the secretory Ig (SIg) system reinforce numerous innate defense mechanisms to protect the mucosal surfaces against microbial penetration. SIgs are generated by a unique cooperation between two distinct cell types: plasma cells that produce polymers of IgA or IgM (collectively called pIgs) and polymeric Ig receptor (pIgR)-expressing secretory epithelial cells that mediate export of the pIgs to the lumen. Apical delivery of SIgs occurs by cleavage of the pIgR to release its extracellular part as a pIg-bound secretory component, whereas free secretory components are derived from an unoccupied receptor. The joining chain (J chain) is crucial in pIg/SIg formation because it serves to polymerize Igs and endows them with a binding site for the pIgR. In this study, we show that the J chain from divergent tetrapods including mammals, birds, and amphibians efficiently induced polymerization of human IgA, whereas the J chain from nurse shark (a lower vertebrate) did not. Correctly assembled polymers showed high affinity to human pIgR. Sequence analysis of the J chain identified two regions, conserved only in tetrapods, which by mutational analysis were found essential for pIgA-pIgR complexing. Furthermore, we isolated and characterized pIgR from the amphibian Xenopus laevis and demonstrated that its pIg binding domain showed high affinity to human pIgA. These results showed that the functional site of interaction between pIgR, J chain and Ig H chains is conserved in these species and suggests that SIgs originated in an ancestor common to tetrapods.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Amphibians
  • Animals
  • Antibody Formation*
  • Binding Sites / immunology
  • Birds
  • Conserved Sequence / immunology*
  • Humans
  • Immunoglobulin A, Secretory / genetics
  • Immunoglobulin A, Secretory / immunology*
  • Immunoglobulin J-Chains / metabolism*
  • Immunoglobulin M / genetics
  • Immunoglobulin M / immunology*
  • Mammals
  • Phylogeny
  • Protein Binding / genetics
  • Protein Binding / immunology
  • Receptors, Polymeric Immunoglobulin / genetics
  • Receptors, Polymeric Immunoglobulin / metabolism*
  • Secretory Component


  • Immunoglobulin A, Secretory
  • Immunoglobulin J-Chains
  • Immunoglobulin M
  • Receptors, Polymeric Immunoglobulin
  • Secretory Component
  • secretory IgM