Immunoglobulin Y (IgY) is the major antibody found in eggs from chicken (Gallus domesticus). IgY can be used as an alternative to mammalian antibodies normally used in research, and its use in immunotherapy has recently been proposed. Compared to mammalian antibodies, IgY possesses several biochemical advantages and its simple purification from egg yolk prevents a stressful moment in animal handling, as no bleeding is necessary.
Small amount of antigen (1 mg) can be used to elicit an immune response in chickens and there are low intra-individual differences regarding antibody concentration found in yolk. By studying two chicken breeds and their cross, a genetic correlation was shown regarding the IgY concentration, which implies a possibility by breeding to increase IgY concentrations. By using IgY instead of goat antibody as capture antibody in ELISA, it is possible reduce interferences by complement activation. After oral administration of IgY to healthy volunteers, IgY activity was present in saliva 8 hours later, indicating a protective effect. This effect has been studied in an open clinical trial with cystic fibrosis patients. Specific IgY against Pseudomonas aeruginosa given orally prolongs the time of intermittent colonization by six months, decrease the number of positive colonizations and might be a useful complement to antibiotic treatment. Immunoglobulin therapy may diminish the development of antibiotic resistant microorganisms. The use of immunoglobulin therapy broadens the arsenal available to combat pathogens in medicine and IgY is a promising candidate, both as an alternative to antibiotics and as a useful tool in research and diagnostics.