The da Vinci epitope


Artist Julian Voss-Andrae created this metal sculpture, Angel of the West, which evokes da Vinci's Vitruvian Man. The molecule is probably instantly recognizable to many of you as an antibody:

The sculpture plays on the striking similarity of both proportion and function of the antibody molecule and the human body. A representation of the antibody molecule, in a style developed by the artist, is surrounded by a ring evocative of Leonardo's Renaissance icon Vitruvian Man (1490). Where man's arms reach up to touch the circle with his hands, the molecule's flexible 'arms' ending in highly specific hand-like regions hold on to the ring. The antibody's 'hands' function to hold on to an intruder, for example a virus, thus tagging it for destruction through the immune system. Reminiscent of spiritual imagery, a set of rays emanates from the spot where the center of the human head would be located in Leonardo's drawing.(source)

From Boing Boing.

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Hi Jessica, it actually doesn't have anything to do with an epitope. An epitope is the antigenic determinant on the foreign macromolecule that the antibody's active binding site (paratope) interacts with.

For an historical background to the epi-/paratope terminology, see my Science as Autobiography: The Troubled Life of Niels Jerne (Yale Univ. Press, 2003), p. 225.



Hey Thomas, I think you misunderstand.

I know perfectly well what an epitope is, and don't agree with your statement that an antibody has nothing to do with an epitope. As a biologist, that statement makes no sense to me whatsoever. The functional utility of an antibody to an organism resides in its ability to target threats, without causing collateral damage to benign tissues. That delicate balance depends on the antibody's efficacy against certain epitopes and not others.

In any case, the title is playing on the insanely popular "da Vinci Code" by Dan Brown. I think the question of what this huge, symbolic, fictitious antibody's mysterious epitope would be is a fun one, if not necessarily worthy of a conspiracy theory novel with unnecessary chase scenes. But certainly a giant antibody invites the question, "what does it bind?"