Antigen localisation regulates immune responses in a dose- and time-dependent fashion: a geographical view of immune reactivity

Immunol Rev. 1997 Apr;156:199-209. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-065x.1997.tb00969.x.


This review summarises experimental evidence to illustrate that induction of immune reactivity depends upon antigen reaching and being available in lymphoid organs in a dose- and time-dependent manner. If antigen reaches lymph organs in a localised staggered manner and with a concentration gradient, a response is induced in the draining lymph node. Antigen-presenting cells are of critical importance to transport antigen from the periphery to local organised lymphoid tissue. If antigen is all over the lymphoid system, then it deletes all specific cells in the thymus or induces them within a few days; because of their limited life-span they then die off, leaving the repertoire depleted of this specificity. If antigen does not reach lymphoid organs it is ignored by immune cells. Once a response is induced, activated but not resting T cells will reach antigen outside lymphoid organs, whereas activated B cells differentiate into plasma cells in an inducing environment, mostly in lymphoid tissue including bone marrow, but also in chronic lymphoid-like infiltrations in peripheral organs. In immunopathology (when the infectious agent is known) or in autoimmunity (when the triggering infectious agent is not known or not recognised) lymphoid tissue may become organised close to the antigen (e.g. in organ-specific autoimmune diseases) and may thereby maintain an autoantigen-driven disease-causing immune response for a long time. The notion that native T cells get induced or silenced in the periphery may be questioned because induction can only occur in lymphoid organs providing anatomical structures where critical cell-cell interactions are properly guided and where, therefore, cells are likely to meet sufficiently frequently and in a critical milieu. Since overall immune reactivity critically depends upon the localisation of antigens in a dose- and time-dependent manner, it seems more likely-but this remains to be shown-that activated T cells may get exhausted in non-lymphoid peripheral tissues, whereas they are usually maintained in lymphoid organs. The critical role of antigen in regulating immune responses also has relevance for our understanding of immunological defence against epithelial and mesenchymal tumours, against many infectious diseases and for understanding autoimmunity and immunological memory. Collectively the data indicate that antigen, dependent upon localisation, dose and time, seems to be the simplest regulator of immune responses.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adjuvants, Immunologic
  • Animals
  • Antigens / immunology*
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Immunologic
  • Humans
  • Immune System / immunology*
  • Lymphoid Tissue / immunology


  • Adjuvants, Immunologic
  • Antigens