Cleavage of IgGs by proteases associated with invasive diseases: an evasion tactic against host immunity?

MAbs. 2010 May-Jun;2(3):212-20. doi: 10.4161/mabs.2.3.11780. Epub 2010 May 23.


The effective functioning of immunoglobulins and IgG mAbs in removing pathological cells requires that the antigen binding regions and the Fc (effector) domain act in concert. The hinge region that connects these domains itself presents motifs that engage Fc receptors on immune effector cells to achieve cell lysis. In addition, sequences in the lower hinge/CH2 and further down the CH2 region are involved in C1q binding and complement-mediated cell killing. Proteolytic enzymes of little relevance to human physiology were successfully used for decades to generate fragments of IgGs for reagent and therapeutic use. It was subsequently noted that tumor-related and microbial proteases also cleaved human IgG specifically in the hinge region. We have shown previously that the "nick" of just one of the lower hinge heavy chains of IgG unexpectedly prevented many effector functions without impacting antigen binding. Of interest, related single-cleaved IgG breakdown products were detected in breast carcinoma extracts. This suggested a pathway by which tumors might avoid host immune surveillance under a cloak of proteolytically-generated, dysfunctional antibodies that block competent IgG binding. The host immune system cannot be blind to this pathway since there exists a widespread, low-titer incidence of anti-hinge (cleavage-site) antibodies in the healthy population. The prevalence of anti-hinge reactivity may reflect an ongoing immune recognition of normal IgG catabolism. Tumor growth and bacterial infections potentially generate hostile proteolytic environments that may pose harsh challenges to host immunity. Recent findings involving physiologically-relevant proteases suggest that the potential loss of key effector functions of host IgGs may result from subtle and limited proteolytic cleavage of IgGs and that such events may facilitate the incursion of invasive cells in local proteolytic settings.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Animals
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal / metabolism
  • Autoantibodies / immunology
  • Bacterial Infections / enzymology*
  • Bacterial Infections / immunology*
  • Bacterial Infections / therapy
  • Bacterial Proteins / metabolism
  • Hinge Exons / genetics
  • Hinge Exons / immunology
  • Humans
  • Immune Evasion*
  • Immunoglobulin G / immunology
  • Immunoglobulin G / metabolism*
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Neoplasms / enzymology*
  • Neoplasms / immunology*
  • Neoplasms / therapy
  • Peptide Hydrolases / metabolism*
  • Tumor Escape*


  • Antibodies, Monoclonal
  • Autoantibodies
  • Bacterial Proteins
  • Immunoglobulin G
  • Peptide Hydrolases