Antineutrophil cytoplasmic antibodies: a still-growing class of autoantibodies in inflammatory disorders

Am J Med. 1992 Dec;93(6):675-82. doi: 10.1016/0002-9343(92)90202-m.


Antineutrophil cytoplasmic antibodies (ANCA) have been described as sensitive and specific markers for active Wegener's granulomatosis (WG). ANCA in WG produce a characteristic cytoplasmic staining pattern of neutrophils (c-ANCA) and are directed against proteinase 3 (Pr3), a serine protease from the azurophilic granules. c-ANCA, more or less equivalent to anti-Pr3, occur in more than 90% of patients with extended WG, in 75% of patients with limited WG without renal involvement, and in some 40% to 50% of patients with vasculitic overlap syndromes suggestive of WG such as microscopic polyarteritis. The presence of c-ANCA is highly specific for those diseases (greater than 98%). Changes of levels of c-ANCA precede disease activity and may be used as guidelines for treatment. Antibodies producing a perinuclear staining of ethanol-fixed neutrophils (p-ANCA) occur in a wide range of diseases. They are directed against different cytoplasmic constituents of neutrophils. Among those, antibodies to myeloperoxidase are found in patients with idiopathic crescentic glomerulonephritis, the Churg-Strauss syndrome, polyarteritis nodosa with visceral involvement, and vasculitic overlap syndromes. Their specificity for this group of necrotizing vasculitides is high (94% to 99%), although they may occur in patients with hydralazine-induced glomerulonephritis, anti-glomerular basement membrane disease, and possibly in some patients with idiopathic systemic lupus erythematosus. Antibodies to leukocyte elastase are incidentally found in patients with vasculitic disorders, whereas lactoferrin antibodies are detected in patients with primary sclerosing cholangitis with or without ulcerative colitis and in rheumatoid arthritis. Their diagnostic significance awaits further studies. p-ANCA of undefined specificity may distinguish ulcerative colitis (sensitivity of 75%) from Crohn's disease (sensitivity of 20%). p-ANCA also occur in autoimmune liver diseases: in 75% of patients with chronic active hepatitis, in 60% to 85% of those with primary sclerosing cholangitis, and in about 30% of patients with primary biliary cirrhosis. Finally, p-ANCA are detected in chronic arthritides and in some 5% of healthy controls. Assessment of their diagnostic value has to await further characterization of the antigens involved, allowing the development of antigen-specific assays.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antibodies, Antineutrophil Cytoplasmic
  • Autoantibodies / blood*
  • Autoimmune Diseases / blood*
  • Autoimmune Diseases / epidemiology
  • Autoimmune Diseases / immunology
  • Biomarkers / blood*
  • Fluorescent Antibody Technique
  • Granulomatosis with Polyangiitis / blood*
  • Granulomatosis with Polyangiitis / epidemiology
  • Granulomatosis with Polyangiitis / immunology
  • Humans
  • Immunoglobulin G*
  • Inflammation / blood*
  • Inflammation / epidemiology
  • Inflammation / immunology
  • Sensitivity and Specificity


  • Antibodies, Antineutrophil Cytoplasmic
  • Autoantibodies
  • Biomarkers
  • Immunoglobulin G