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Sera from patients with malignant essential hypertension (n = 14), malignant secondary hypertension mainly attributable to renovascular diseases (n = 12) and renovascular diseases without malignant hypertension (n = 11) and from normotensive healthy blood donors (n = 35) were studied for the presence of autoantibodies against G-protein-coupled cardiovascular receptors. Autoantibodies against the angiotensin II receptor (AT1) were detected in 14, 33, 18 and 14% of patients with malignant essential hypertension, malignant secondary hypertension, renovascular diseases and control patients, respectively. Sensitivity of the enzyme immunoassay was assessed as 5 μg/ml IgG. Patients did not show antibodies against bradykinin (B2) or angiotensin II subtype 2 (AT2) receptors. Autoantibodies affinity-purified from positive patients localized AT receptors in Chinese hamster ovary transfected cells, and displayed a positive chronotropic effect on cultured neonatal rat cardiomyocytes. These results demonstrate the existence of autoantibodies against a functional extracellular domain of human AT1 receptors in patients with malignant hypertension, and suggest that these autoantibodies might be involved in the pathogenesis of malignant hypertension.