In 1904 he delivered at the university of California a course of lectures, the object of which was to illustrate the application of the methods of physical chemistry to the study of the theory of toxins and antitoxins, and which were published in 1907 under the title Immunochemistry.
Von Behring completed the sphere of the new study by his discovery of the antitoxins of diphtheria and tetanus.
Antitoxins are organic products designed to neutralize the formation of the toxins of certain diseases in the blood.
Of such probably are the toxins and antitoxins of certain infections, which, anchoring themselves not by any means indiscriminately, but to particular and concerted molecules, by such anchorage antagonize them or turn them to favourable or unfavourable issues.
In the mutual behaviour of such cells, toxins, and antitoxins, and again of microbes themselves, we may demonstrate even on the field of the microscope some of the modes of such actions, which seem to partake in great measure at any rate of a chemical quality (agglutinins, coagulins, chemotaxis).
The effect of the abnormal conditions is probably to stop the production of, or weaken or destroy the protective enzymes or antitoxins, the presence of which normally confers immunity on the leaf.
The toxins produced by microbes, if too weak to destroy the leucocytes, induce them to secrete antitoxins, which not only act as antidotes to the toxins and are injurious to the microbes, but also increase the phagocytic power of the leucocytes (opsonius of Wright).
The antitoxins are examples of this variety.
The latter view, first advocated by Ehrlich, harmonizes with the facts established with regard to toxic action and the behaviour of antitoxins, and may now be regarded as established.
The theory also supplies the explanation of the power which an animal possesses of producing various antitoxins, since this depends ultimately upon susceptibility to toxic action.
In preparing anti-bacterial sera the lines of procedure correspond to those followed in the case of antitoxins, but the bacteria themselves in the living or dead condition or their maceration products are always used in the injections.
Antitoxins can be prepared by immunizing a large animal, such as a horse, by injecting gradually increasing doses of specific toxins into its subcutaneous tissue.