Autoantibodies directed against polymorphonuclear neutrophils (PMN) have been observed in serum from patients with ulcerative colitis (UC), Crohn's disease (CD) and primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC) using indirect immunofluorescence and fixed granulocyte ELISA. Our study demonstrates the presence in the serum of these patients of autoantibodies which bind to an azurophilic granule component distinct from proteinase 3, elastase and myeloperoxidase. These autoantibodies thus belong to the ANCA family, but their antigen specificity differs from the already characterized ANCA antigens. We have found that the same ANCA antigen target, named UC-antigen, was recognized by serum IgG from patients with UC, CD and PSC. It was purified by Matrex Gel Orange A dye affinity chromatography and subsequent immunoabsorption of contaminant proteinase 3 with immobilized anti-proteinase 3 MoAb. The identity between this UC antigen and cathepsin G was demonstrated by their coelution from Matrex Gel Orange A column and the parallel titration of cathepsin G-specific enzymatic activity and UC-ANCA binding, both in partially purified UC antigen and in highly pure cathepsin G. Furthermore, the use of cathepsin G ELISA confirmed that UC, CD and PSC patients' IgG did indeed bind to cathepsin G. Comparison of the results obtained with azurophilic granule- and cathepsin G-ELISA as well as inhibition of ANCA binding by anti-cathepsin G polyclonal antibodies, revealed that in some patients cathepsin G is the main azurophilic granule target of ANCA while others have other ANCA specificities. The fact that UC, CD and PSC are frequently associated with cathepsin G ANCA, while rarely occurring in other types of vasculitis, is intriguing but suggests that these diseases may have a common pathogenetic mechanism.