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A precipitin is an antibody which can precipitate out of a solution upon antigen binding.

Precipitin reaction[edit]

The precipitin reaction provided the first quantitative assay for antibody. The precipitin reaction is based upon the interaction of antigen with antibody leading to the production of antigen-antibody complexes.

To produce a precipitin reaction, varying amounts of soluble antigen are added to a fixed amount of serum containing antibody. As the amount of antigen added:

  • In the zone of antibody excess, each molecule of antigen is bound extensively by antibody and crosslinked to other molecules of antigen. The average size of antibody-antigen complex is small; cross-linking between antigen molecules by antibody is rare.
  • In the zone of equivalence, the formation of precipitin complexes is optimal. Extensive lattices of antigen and antibody are formed by cross-linking.
  • At high concentrations of antigen, the average size of antibody-antigen complexes is once again small because few antibody molecules are available to cross-link antigen molecules together.

The small, soluble immune complexes formed in vivo in the zone of antigen excess can cause a variety of pathological syndromes.

Antibody can only precipitate antigenic substrates that are multivalent—that is, only antigens that have multiple antibody-binding sites epitopes. This allows for the formation of large antigen:antibody complexes.

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