The antibody response of a single outbred rabbit was studied throughout three rounds of injections with Micrococcus lysodeikticus vaccine over a 31-mo period. The first-round response was characterized by a vigorous anti- micrococcus response and a strong anti-IgG rheumatoid factor response. The second-round response consisted of a triad of interacting molecules: anti- micrococcal antibodies, autoanti-idiotypic antibodies specific for distinct clonotypes of the first-round anti-micrococcal antibodies, and Fc-specific anti-IgG rheumatoid factor. The interacting triple complex was detected because of the formation of an immune complex that became insoluble upon dilution of the serum. Complex formation was inhibited in the presence of saccharide compounds known to be major immunodominant determinants of the micrococcal cell-wall carbohydrate polymer. The same saccharides did not affect the reaction of rheumatoid factor with IgG. Direct-binding radioimmunoassays ruled out mediation of the dilution-precipitation reaction by soluble micrococcal antigens. Specific absorption of rheumatoid factor inhibited the dilution-precipitation reaction. Auto-anti-idiotypic antibodies were specifically purified from second-round sera, directly confirming the presence of these antibodies. Suppressive effects of auto-anti-idiotypic antibodies on distinct antibody clonotypes were shown by gel isoelectric focusing of first-, second-, and third-round sera. Clonotypes expressed in the first round of immunizations were reduced in quantity or absent when auto-anti-idiotypic antibodies were detectable. Greatly enhanced levels or initial synthesis of new clonotypes of anti-micrococcal antibodies were detected during the period of auto-anti-idiotype synthesis. The third-round sera, devoid of detectable auto-anti-idiotype, contained clonotypes characteristic of both first- and second-round antisera. Thus, auto-anti- idiotypic-mediated suppression appeared to be reversible. The data are interpreted as lending strong support for concepts of autoregulation of immune processes in normal outbred animals via an idiotypic network.

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