On the maternal transmission of immunity: a 'molecular attention' hypothesis

Biosystems. 1995;34(1-3):87-105. doi: 10.1016/0303-2647(94)01444-c.


Maternally-derived antibodies can provide passive protection to their offspring. More subtle phenomena associated with maternal antibodies concern their influence in shaping the immune repertoire and priming the neonatal immune response. These phenomena suggest that maternal antibodies play a role in the education of the neonatal immune system. The educational effects are thought to be mediated by idiotypic interactions among antibodies and B cells in the context of an idiotypic network. This paper proposes that maternal antibodies trigger localized idiotypic network activity that serves to amplify and translate information concerning the molecular shapes of potential antigens. The triggering molecular signals are contained in the binding regions of the antibody molecules. These antibodies form complexes and are taken up by antigen presenting cells or retained by follicular dendritic cells and thereby incorporated into more traditional cellular immune memory mechanisms. This mechanism for maternal transmission of immunity is termed the molecular attention hypothesis and is contrasted to the dynamic memory hypothesis. Experiments are proposed that may help indicate which models are more appropriate and will further our understanding of these intriguing natural phenomena. Finally, analogies are drawn to attention in neural systems.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Animals, Newborn
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Immunity, Maternally-Acquired*
  • Immunization, Passive
  • Immunoglobulin Idiotypes
  • Immunologic Memory
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Mathematics
  • Models, Biological*
  • Pregnancy
  • T-Lymphocytes / immunology


  • Immunoglobulin Idiotypes