The subclass distribution of IgG rheumatoid factor (RF) was determined by a sensitive ELISA assay in sera from patients with rheumatoid arthritis and from normal controls. In both instances, the most important subclasses were IgG1 and IgG4. The IgG4 RF was directed against the Fc region of IgG, and recognized human as well as rabbit IgG. Although human IgG4 myeloma proteins bound to rabbit IgG better than did myelomas of other IgG subclasses, the IgG4 RF activity in rheumatoid sera showed an additional specificity, because the fraction of IgG4 RF/total IgG4 for rheumatoid arthritis sera was far greater than for myelomas. This inference was supported by the observation that there was persistent, albeit diminished, IgG RF activity in pepsin-digested, RF-containing sera (but not myeloma proteins), indicating that a critical component of IgG4 RF activity was contained within the Fab region of the IgG4 molecule. The finding of large quantities of IgG4 RF was not due to a bias of the assay, because the preponderance of IgG4 did not extend to the subclass distribution of antibodies directed against other antigens. The demonstration of an important role for IgG4 as a RF is of special interest because of the relative inability of this subclass to fix complement or to bind to Fc receptors, and because of its potential role as a mediator of increased vascular permeability.

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