IgY: A key isotype in antibody evolution

Xiaoying Zhang*, Rosaleen A. Calvert, Brian J. Sutton, Katy A. Doré

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

78 Citations (Scopus)


Immunoglobulin Y (IgY) is central to our understanding of immunoglobulin evolution. It has links to antibodies from the ancestral IgM to the mucosal IgX and IgA, as well as to mammalian serum IgG and IgE. IgY is found in amphibians, birds and reptiles, and as their most abundant serum antibody, is orthologous to mammalian IgG. However, IgY has the same domain architecture as IgM and IgE, lacking a hinge region and comprising four heavy-chain constant domains. The relationship between IgY and the mucosal antibodies IgX and IgA is discussed herein, in particular the question of how IgA could have contributed to the emergence of IgY. Although IgY does not contain a hinge region, amphibian IgF and duck-billed platypus IgY/O, which are closely related to IgY, do contain this region, as does mammalian IgG, IgA and IgD. A hinge region must therefore have evolved at least three times independently by convergent evolution. In the absence of three-dimensional structural information for the complete Fc fragment of chicken IgY (IgY-Fc), it remains to be discovered whether IgY displays the same conformational properties as IgM and IgE, which exhibit substantial flexibility in their Fc regions. IgY has three characterised Fc receptors, chicken Ig-like receptor AB1 (CHIR-AB1), the chicken yolk sac IgY receptor (FcRY) and Gallus gallus Fc receptor (ggFcR). These receptors bind to IgY at sites that are structurally homologous to mammalian counterparts; IgA/FcαRI for CHIR-AB1, IgG/FcRn for FcRY and IgE/Fcε RI and IgG/FcγR for ggFcR. These resemblances reflect the close evolutionary relationships between IgY and IgA, IgG and IgE. However, the evolutionary distance between birds and mammals allows for the ready generation of IgY antibodies to conserved mammalian proteins for medical and biotechnological applications. Furthermore, the lack of reactivity of IgY with mammalian Fc receptors, and the fact that large quantities of IgY can be made quickly and cheaply in chicken eggs, offers important advantages and considerable potential for IgY in research, diagnostics and therapeutics.

Original languageEnglish
Early online date16 Mar 2017
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 16 Mar 2017


  • Antibody evolution
  • Fc receptors
  • Hinge region
  • IgA
  • IgE
  • IgG
  • IgM
  • IgY


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