Proteinase 3 (PR3)-specific antineutrophil cytoplasmic antibodies (ANCA) are highly specific for the autoimmune small vessel vasculitis, Wegener's granulomatosis (WG). PR3-ANCA have proven diagnostic value but their pathogenic potential and utility as a biomarker for disease activity remain unclear. PR3-ANCA recognize conformational epitopes, and epitope-specific PR3-ANCA subsets with variable impact on biological functions of PR3 have been postulated. The aims of this study were to identify specific PR3 surface epitopes recognized by monoclonal antibodies (moAbs) and to determine whether the findings can be used to measure the functional impact of epitope-specific PR3-ANCA and their potential relationship to disease activity. We used a novel flow cytometry assay based on TALON-beads coated with recombinant human (H) and murine (M) PR3 and 10 custom-designed chimeric human/mouse rPR3-variants (Hm1-5/Mh1-5) identifying 5 separate non-conserved PR3 surface epitopes. Anti-PR3 moAbs recognize 4 major surface epitopes, and we identified the specific surface location of 3 of these with the chimeric rPR3-variants. The ability of PR3-ANCA to inhibit the enzymatic activity of PR3 was measured indirectly using a capture-ELISA system based on the different epitopes recognized by capturing moAbs. Epitope-specific PR3-ANCA capture-ELISA results obtained from patient plasma (n=27) correlated with the inhibition of enzymatic activity of PR3 by paired IgG preparations (r=0.7, P<0.01). The capture-ELISA results also seem to reflect disease activity. In conclusion, insights about epitopes recognized by anti-PR3 moAbs can be applied to separate PR3-ANCA subsets with predictable functional qualities. The ability of PR3-ANCA to inhibit the enzymatic activity of PR3, a property linked to disease activity, can now be gauged using a simple epitope-based capture-ELISA system.
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