An immune complex is formed from the integral binding of an antibody to a soluble antigen. The bound antigen and antibody act as a specific epitope, and is referred to as a singular immune complex. After an antigen-antibody reaction, the immune complexes can be subject to any of a number of responses, including complement deposition, opsonization, phagocytosis, or processing by proteases. Red blood cells carrying CR1-receptors on their surface may bind C3b-decorated immune complexes and transport them to phagocytes, mostly in liver and spleen, and return to the general circulation.
Immune complexes may themselves cause disease when they are deposited in organs, e.g. in certain forms of vasculitis. This is the third form of hypersensitivity in the Gell-Coombs classification, called type III hypersensitivity.
Immune complex deposition is a prominent feature of several autoimmune diseases, including systemic lupus erythematosus, cryoglobulinemia, rheumatoid arthritis, scleroderma and Sjögren's syndrome.
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