Cytochromes c (cyt c) are among the best characterized model Ag because their amino acid sequences and tertiary structures are well defined. One unique aspect of cyt c as an immunogen is its ability to induce autoantibody responses in animal models, although no pathology resulting from these responses has been reported. In this study, the presence and specificity of autoantibodies to cyt c were investigated in patients with SLE and related connective tissue diseases. Anti-cyt c antibodies were found in approximately 7% of patient sera and were statistically associated with the expression of antimitochondrial antibodies but were not statistically associated with any disease subset among those represented. Anti-cyt c was not associated with the presence of autoantibodies to DNA, histones, Ro, La, or Sm autoantigens. Most of the autoantibodies were specific for native or native-like forms of cyt c but antibodies to denatured forms were also apparent. Autoantibody binding was shown to be directed predominantly at selected sites of evolutionary variability within cyt c. The specificity of the human anti-cyt c autoantibodies appear to be similar to that of mouse anti-human cyt c antibodies and to autoantibodies elicited in mice against rat (mouse) cyt c.

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