Immunogenicity of therapeutic proteins: influence of aggregation

J Immunotoxicol. Apr-Jun 2014;11(2):99-109. doi: 10.3109/1547691X.2013.821564. Epub 2013 Aug 6.


The elicitation of anti-drug antibodies (ADA) against biotherapeutics can have detrimental effects on drug safety, efficacy, and pharmacokinetics. The immunogenicity of biotherapeutics is, therefore, an important issue. There is evidence that protein aggregation can result in enhanced immunogenicity; however, the precise immunological and biochemical mechanisms responsible are poorly defined. In the context of biotherapeutic drug development and safety assessment, understanding the mechanisms underlying aggregate immunogenicity is of considerable interest. This review provides an overview of the phenomenon of protein aggregation, the production of unwanted aggregates during bioprocessing, and how the immune response to aggregated protein differs from that provoked by non-aggregated protein. Of particular interest is the nature of the interaction of aggregates with the immune system and how subsequent ADA responses are induced. Pathways considered here include 'classical' activation of the immune system involving antigen presenting cells and, alternatively, the breakdown of B-cell tolerance. Additionally, methods available to screen for aggregation and immunogenicity will be described. With an increased understanding of aggregation-enhanced immune responses, it may be possible to develop improved manufacturing and screening processes to avoid, or at least reduce, the problems associated with ADA.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antibody Formation
  • B-Lymphocytes / immunology
  • Epoetin Alfa
  • Erythropoietin / immunology
  • Humans
  • Immune Tolerance
  • Interferon-beta / immunology
  • Protein Aggregation, Pathological
  • Protein Engineering
  • Protein Folding
  • Proteins / chemistry
  • Proteins / immunology*
  • Proteins / therapeutic use*
  • Recombinant Proteins / immunology


  • Proteins
  • Recombinant Proteins
  • Erythropoietin
  • Epoetin Alfa
  • Interferon-beta