Anti-citrullinated protein/peptide antibodies (ACPA) are a hallmark of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and can be measured using different citrullinated substrates. In this paper we describe a new viral citrullinated peptide - VCP2 - derived from the Epstein-Barr virus-encoded protein EBNA-2 and analyse its potential as substrate for ACPA detection. Analysing sera from 100 RA patients and 306 controls, anti-VCP2 immunoglobulin (Ig)G were found in 66% of RA sera, IgM in 46% and IgA in 39%, compared with less than 3% of control sera. Anti-VCP2 IgG was associated with erosive arthritis, the presence of rheumatoid factor and anti-VCP1 and anti-cyclic citrullinated peptide (CCP) antibodies. Anti-VCP2 antibodies were detected in 1% and anti-VCP1 antibodies in 4% of CCP-negative RA sera; conversely, 3% of the VCP-negative sera were CCP-positive. Taken together, these data suggest that VCP2 could offer a valuable tool for ACPA detection. Inhibition assays showed that two non-overlapping epitopes - a citrulline-glycine stretch shared between VCP1 and VCP2 and the N-terminal portion of the VCP2 sequence - were targeted by anti-VCP2 antibodies. Moreover, in some RA sera that tested positive in CCP and VCP2 assays, preincubation with VCP2 inhibited binding to CCP, whereas in other sera the binding was unaffected. Thus, the reactivity with more than one ACPA substrate might be due in some RA patients to antibody populations with different specificities, and in others to cross-reactive antibody populations. Finally, affinity-purified anti-VCP2 antibodies immunoprecipitated deiminated Epstein-Barr virus nuclear antigen (EBNA-2) from an EBNA-2-transfected cell line, suggesting that viral sequences may be involved in the generation of the ACPA response.
© 2011 The Authors. Clinical and Experimental Immunology © 2011 British Society for Immunology.