Restricted immune activation and internalisation of anti-idiotype complexes between drug and antidrug antibodies

Ann Rheum Dis. 2018 Oct;77(10):1471-1479. doi: 10.1136/annrheumdis-2018-213299. Epub 2018 Jun 26.


Objectives: Therapeutic antibodies can provoke an antidrug antibody (ADA) response, which can form soluble immune complexes with the drug in potentially high amounts. Nevertheless, ADA-associated adverse events are usually rare, although with notable exceptions including infliximab. The immune activating effects and the eventual fate of these 'anti-idiotype' complexes are poorly studied, hampering assessment of ADA-associated risk of adverse events. We investigated the in vitro formation and biological activities of ADA-drug anti-idiotype immune complexes using patient-derived monoclonal anti-infliximab antibodies.

Methods: Size distribution and conformation of ADA-drug complexes were characterised by size-exclusion chromatography and electron microscopy. Internalisation of and immune activation by complexes of defined size was visualised with flow imaging, whole blood cell assay and C4b/c ELISA.

Results: Size and conformation of immune complexes depended on the concentrations and ratio of drug and ADA; large complexes (>6 IgGs) formed only with high ADA titres. Macrophages efficiently internalised tetrameric and bigger complexes in vitro, but not dimers. Corroborating these results, ex vivo analysis of patient sera demonstrated only dimeric complexes in circulation.No activation of immune cells by anti-idiotype complexes was observed, and only very large complexes activated complement. Unlike Fc-linked hexamers, anti-idiotype hexamers did not activate complement, demonstrating that besides size, conformation governs immune complex potential for triggering effector functions.

Conclusions: Anti-idiotype ADA-drug complexes generally have restricted immune activation capacity. Large, irregularly shaped complexes only form at high concentrations of both drug and ADA, as may be achieved during intravenous infusion of infliximab, explaining the rarity of serious ADA-associated adverse events.

Keywords: Dmards (biologic); anti-TNF; autoimmune diseases.

MeSH terms

  • Antibodies / immunology*
  • Antibody Formation / drug effects*
  • Antigen-Antibody Complex / immunology*
  • Antirheumatic Agents / immunology*
  • Chromatography, Gel
  • Enzyme-Linked Immunosorbent Assay
  • Humans
  • Infliximab / immunology*
  • Serum / immunology


  • Antibodies
  • Antigen-Antibody Complex
  • Antirheumatic Agents
  • Infliximab