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Foreign substance in the body that induces an immune response. The antigen stimulates lymphocytes to produce antibodies or to attack the antigen directly (seeantibody;immunity). Virtually any large foreign molecule can act as an antigen, including those of bacteria, viruses, parasites, foods, venoms, blood components, and cells and tissues of various species, including other humans. Sites on the antigen's surface fit and bind to receptor molecules on the lymphocytes' surface, stimulating the latter to multiply and initiate an immune response that neutralizes or destroys the antigen.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on antigen, visit Britannica.com.