Seronegative autoimmune diseases: A challenging diagnosis

Autoimmun Rev. 2022 Sep;21(9):103143. doi: 10.1016/j.autrev.2022.103143. Epub 2022 Jul 15.


Autoimmune diseases (AID) are increasingly prevalent conditions which comprise more than 100 distinct clinical entities that are responsible for a great disease burden worldwide. The early recognition of these diseases is key for preventing their complications and for tailoring proper management. In most cases, autoantibodies, regardless of their potential pathogenetic role, can be detected in the serum of patients with AID, helping clinicians in making a definitive diagnosis and allowing screening strategies for early -and sometimes pre-clinical- diagnosis. Despite their undoubted crucial role, in a minority of cases, patients with AID may not show any autoantibody, a condition that is referred to as seronegative AID. Suboptimal accuracy of the available laboratory tests, antibody absorption, immunosuppressive therapy, immunodeficiencies, antigen exhaustion, and immunosenescence are the main possible determinants of seronegative AID. Indeed, in seronegative AID, the diagnosis is more challenging and must rely on clinical features and on other available tests, often including histopathological evaluation and radiological diagnostic tests. In this review, we critically dissect, in a narrative fashion, the possible causes of seronegativity, as well as the diagnostic and management implications, in several AID including autoimmune gastritis, celiac disease, autoimmune liver disease, rheumatoid arthritis, autoimmune encephalitis, myasthenia gravis, Sjögren's syndrome, antiphospholipid syndrome, and autoimmune thyroid diseases.

Keywords: Antiphospholipid syndrome; Arthritis; Celiac disease; Encephalitis; Gastritis; Hepatitis.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid*
  • Autoantibodies
  • Autoimmune Diseases*
  • Hashimoto Disease*
  • Humans
  • Myasthenia Gravis* / complications
  • Sjogren's Syndrome*


  • Autoantibodies