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Any agent which can elicit an immune response. The term 'antigen' may refer to an individual macromolecule or to a homogeneous or heterogeneous population of antigenic macromolecules. A given antigen usually contains more than one determinant. An antigen may be soluble (e.g. microbial toxins, extracts) or particulate. The most effective antigens are proteins and polysaccharides. The surface of a microorganism typically consists of repeating patterns of antigens, and the classification of some groups of microorganisms is based on differences between the antigens of different strains.