Are anti-neutrophil cytoplasmic antibodies (ANCA) clinically useful in inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)?



Since the first detection of ANCA in IBD, numerous studies have dealt with their prevalence, antigenic specificities, clinical significance, pathophysiological role, and their induction. This review summarizes the information obtained from those studies and shows that ANCA are not directly useful as diagnostic and prognostic factors in IBD. ANCA were detected in 50–85% of patients with ulcerative colitis (UC) and 10–20% of patients with Crohn's disease (CD). Multiple target antigens are recognized by these autoantibodies, including both cytoplasmic and nuclear proteins. A pathophysiological role for ANCA in IBD is far from clear. On the one hand, it is suggested that ANCA are genetic markers of susceptibility for IBD, and on the other hand, the induction of ANCA in those diseases may just be an epiphenomenon of chronic inflammation. We discuss recent evidence that ANCA may be induced by a break-through of tolerance towards bacterial antigens.