Anti-citrullinated protein antibodies (ACPAs) are a hallmark of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and represent an important tool for the serological diagnosis of RA.
In this study, we describe ACPA reactivity to overlapping citrullinated Epstein-Barr virus nuclear antigen-1 (EBNA-1)-derived peptides and analyze their potential as substrates for ACPA detection by streptavidin capture enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay. Using systematically overlapping peptides, containing a 10 amino acid overlap, labelled with biotin C-terminally or N-terminally, sera from 160 individuals (RA sera (n = 60), healthy controls (n = 40), systemic lupus erythematosus (n = 20), Sjögren's syndrome (n = 40)) were screened for antibody reactivity.
Antibodies to a panel of five citrullinated EBNA-1 peptides were found in 67% of RA sera, exclusively of the IgG isotype, while 53% of the patient sera reacted with a single peptide, ARGGSRERARGRGRG-Cit-GEKR, accounting for more than half of the ACPA reactivity alone. Moreover, these antibodies were detected in 10% of CCP2-negative RA sera. In addition, 47% of the RA sera reacted with two or three citrullinated EBNA-1 peptides from the selected peptide panel. Furthermore, a negative correlation between the biotin attachment site and the location of citrulline in the peptides was found, i.e. the closer the citrulline was located to biotin, the lower the antibody reactivity.
Our data suggest that citrullinated EBNA-1 peptides may be considered a substrate for the detection of ACPAs and that the presence of Epstein-Barr virus may play a role in the induction of these autoantibodies.