Autoantibodies against C1q strongly correlate with the occurrence of severe nephritis in patients with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). We undertook this study to determine whether identification of the C1q epitope(s) recognized by these autoantibodies might lead to a better diagnostic assay and help elucidate the putative role of C1q and anti-C1q in SLE.
SLE patient–derived anti-C1q Fab were used in a microarray-based peptide scan to identify the peptide sequence recognized by anti-C1q. Anti-C1q Fab binding to the target peptide was further analyzed using real-time interaction measurements (surface plasmon resonance) and peptide-based enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays (ELISAs).
A peptide scan of the collagen-like region of C1q identified 2 regions, 1 on the A chain and 1 on the B chain, that were the targets of the anti-C1q Fab. Binding was confirmed by surface plasmon resonance and showed nanomolar affinity. The A chain–derived peptide could specifically be detected in a peptide-based ELISA by SLE patient sera. Competition experiments suggested that this peptide represented one of the major linear epitopes of C1q that is the target of anti-C1q in SLE. Serum antibodies from most SLE patients but not from healthy individuals specifically bound to this epitope. Binding to the peptide correlated with binding of the same sera to native C1q but was found to be more sensitive for the detection of lupus nephritis.
We identified a major linear epitope of C1q that is the target of anti-C1q in SLE. The ELISA using this peptide was more specific and more sensitive than a conventional anti-C1q assay for the detection of active nephritis in SLE patients.