Ehrlich’s Side-chain Theory
This research inspired Ehrlich in 1897 to develop his famous side-chain theory. As he saw it, the reaction between a toxin and the operative components of a serum, as well as the effect of the toxin itself, is a chemical reaction. He explained the toxic effect using the example of tetanus toxin. Cell protoplasm contains special side chains (today’s term is macromolecules) to which the toxin binds, thereby affecting how they function. If the organism survives the effects of the toxin, the blocked side-chains are replaced by new ones. This regeneration can be trained, the name for this phenomenon being immunization. If there is a surplus of side chains they can also be released into the blood as antibodies. In the following years Ehrlich expanded his side chain theory using concepts (“amboceptors”, “receptors of the first, second and third order”, etc.) which are no longer customary. Between the antigen and the antibody he assumed there was an additional immune molecule, which he called an “additive” or a “complement”. For him, the side chain contained at least two functional groups. For providing a theoretical basis for immunology as well as for his work on serum valency, Ehrlich and were awarded the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1908 together with Élie Metchnikoff. Metchnikoff, who had researched the cellular branch of immunity, Phagocytosis, at the Pasteur Institute had previously sharply attacked Ehrlich.
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