We recently defined the immunochemical characteristics of immune complexes (IC) isolated from synovial fluid (SF) of patients with rheumatoid arthritis with the use of Western blot analysis. In the present study, we probe for exogenous antigens in the IC by examining the specificity of antisera raised against the IC. Anti-IC antisera demonstrated strong reactivity against the viral capsid antigen (VCA) of Epstein Barr virus (EBV), which was not explained by preimmune reactivity, polyclonal B cell activation, or Fc-mediated binding in the immunofluorescence or ELISA systems used to measure antibody titers. However, comparable anti-VCA reactivity was detected in antisera raised against non-rheumatoid SF. This phenomenon was not due to antigen since monoclonal anti-VCA antibody probing the IC by Western blot detected only IgG, nor to idiotype/anti-idiotype interaction since normal IgG absorbed out the anti-VCA reactivity. A monoclonal anti-VCA antibody competitively inhibited the binding of anti-IgG to IgG, and Fc fragment of IgG competitively inhibited the monoclonal antibody binding to VCA. No relationship between IgG anti-VCA antibody and IgG rheumatoid factor could be demonstrated. These data demonstrate an unexpected cross-reactivity of Fc fragment of IgG and VCA of EBV through the analysis of SF IC.

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