Approximately 60% of sera from ulcerative colitis (UC) patients contains Igs reactive with neutrophil components, raising the question of the origin of these anti-neutrophil cytoplasmic Abs (ANCA). Our assertion that ANCA is a marker for a mucosal disease-related immune response predicts the existence of ANCA producing B cell clones in the lamina propria lymphocyte (LPL) fraction of UC patients. This hypothesis was tested by examining 12-day culture supernatants of LPL ANCA expression. LPL were isolated from surgically removed mucosa from patients with UC, Crohn's disease (CD), and diverticulitis. Normal mucosa was obtained from accident victims or normal margins of colon cancer resections. Supernatants were assayed by a fixed neutrophil ELISA. The ANCA staining pattern of supernatants expressing ANCA, as determined by ELISA, was assessed by indirect immunofluorescent staining of alcohol-fixed neutrophils. ANCA was found in 70% of culture supernatants from UC LPL fractions. In contrast, only approximately 11% of supernatants from CD and diverticulitis/normal (noninflammatory bowel disease (IBD)) LPL displayed ANCA binding. A perinuclear (pANCA) staining pattern was obtained with 70% of ANCA-expressing UC LPL supernatants, whereas ANCA-expressing CD and non-IBD LPL supernatants displayed a cytoplasmic reaction. PBL and mesenteric lymph node lymphocytes lacked spontaneous pANCA production, and pANCA production from PBL was not inducible. These findings indicate the existence of pANCA-producing B cell clones in mucosal lesions of UC patients and support our hypothesis that pANCA production is a consequence of a mucosal immune response specific to UC.