An antibody or immunoglobulin is a large Y-shaped protein produced primarily by plasma cells of the humoral immune system. They are used to recognize and neutralize any foreign antigens or pathogens. An antibody is identical to the B-cell receptor of the cell that secretes it except for a small portion of the C-terminus of the heavy-chain constant region. The difference is that a B-cell receptor C-terminus is a hydrophobic membrane-anchoring sequence and on an antibody, the C-terminus is a hydrophilic sequence that allows its secretion. The Y-portion of the consists of two arms that vary between the different antibody molecules, otherwise known as the V-region. The V-region is involved in antigen binding. The C-region is far less variable and is the part of the molecule that interacts with effector cells and other molecules. All antibodies are constructed in the same way paired from heavy and light polypeptide chains joined by disulfide bonds so that each heavy chain is linked to a light chain and the two heavy chains are linked together.
There are two types of light chains, lambda and kappa. A given immunoglobulin has one or the either, never both. In humans the ratio of kappa to lambda; the two types of light chains in immunoglobulins is 2:1. The class, and the effector function of an antibody is defined by the structure of its heavy chain. There are five main heavy-chain isotypes. The five major immunoglobulin classes are IgM, IgD, IgG, IgA, and IgE. IgG is the most abundant immunoglobulin and has several subclasses (1, 2, 3, and 4 in humans). The distinctive functional properties are conferred by the carboxyl -terminal part of the heavy chain, where it is not bonded with the heavy chain.
Each chain of the immunoglobulin consists of a protein domain. Each protein domain consists of a series of similar, but not identical sequences about 110 amino acids long . The light chain is made up of two domains, and the heavy chain consists of four. The variable or V-domain of the heavy and light chains together consist of the V-region of the antibody allowing it to bind specific antigens. The constant domains of the heavy and light chains together make up the C-region. The V-region or the Y of the molecule, where the antigen binding activity takes place is called the Fab fragments. Fab stands for fragment antigen binding. The other part of the molecule, the constant region (C-region) contains no antigen-binding activity, and is called the Fc fragment. Fc stands for Fragment crystallizable. This is the part of the molecule that interacts with effector molecules and cells.
The immunoglobulin molecule is flexible. There is a hinge region that links the Fc and Fab regions of the molecule, allowing independent movement of the two Fab arms.
To recap. An antibody molecule is made up of four polypeptide chains, comprising of two identical light chains and two identical heavy chains, which can be thought of as forming a flexible Y-shaped structure. Each of the four chains has a variable (V) region at its amino terminus, which contributes to the antigen-binding site, and a constant (C) region, which determines the isotype of the immunoglobulin. The light chains are bound to the heavy chains are non-convalent disulfide bonds. The V-regions of the light and heavy chains pair together to form the Fab region on the arms of the Y-structure. The trunk of the Y-structure, consisting of the carboxyl-terminal domains of the heavy chains make up the Fc fragment. The Fc fragment determines the different isotype of the immunoglobulin and interacts with different effector molecules. There is a hinge region joining the Fab and Fc regions allowing the antibody independent movement to maximize its antigen binding capabilities.