Antiphospholipid antibodies: Basic immunology and assays

D. R. Schultz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

37 Scopus citations


Great progress has been made within the past 10 years in characterizing, assaying, and describing mechanism(s) of action in vitro of antiphospholipid antibodies (a-PL Abs); three prominent members are reagin, anticardiolipin antibodies (a-CL Abs), and the lupus anticoagulants (LAC). The major focus of this review is on basic and current biochemical and immunologic research. First, the biochemistry, structural composition, and sources of anionic and dipolar ionic (zwitterionic) phospholipids are discussed together with several serum antibodies directed to these phospholipids. Cardiolipin, the most acidic phospholipid (net negative charge of 2 at pH 7.0) has been historically important as an antigen for testing reagin in syphilis serology, and currently is part of the antigenic composition used in the Venereal Disease Research Laboratory (VDRL) tests. In this connection, the chronic biological false-positive test for syphilis and the LAC are discussed in association with autoimmune disorders such as systemic lupus erythematosus. Second, a naturally occurring plasma anticoagulant in vitro and a critical cofactor for binding of purified autoimmune a-CL Abs to cardiolipin is considered, the β2-glycoprotein I (β2-gpl). This single-chain plasma polypeptide is highly glycosylated, has 326 amino acids, a molecular weight of 50 kD, and is characterized by repeating amino acid motifs or domains that structurally resemble multiple loops. The highly cationic C-terminal fifth domain binds to anionic phospholipids. The β2-gpl is a member of the short consensus repeat superfamily of proteins, and is compared with other proteins with similar domains. Third, experiments are detailed for defining LAC and distinguishing it from other a-CL Abs. Cofactors are also associated with LAC and include β2-gpl, prothrombin, protein C, protein S, tissue factor, and factor XI. Thus, LAC antibodies are heterogeneous, and no individual assay can detect all LACs. Because patients with syphilis and other infectious diseases have no cofactor associated with a-CL Abs, their plasma LACs are negative. The a-CL Abs found in infection are not associated with the clinical features of the antiphospholipid syndrome. LAC assays are important because of the pathogenatic association with clinical observations of venous and arterial thrombosis, thrombocytopenia, and recurrent fetal loss. Finally, reports leading to development of currently used direct solid-phase enzyme- linked immunosorbent assays (ELISA) for testing a-PL Abs are outlined; these developments have greatly increased understanding of the basic immunology of target antigens and their respective antibodies. Of significance, a-CL Abs cross-react with other anionic phospholipids. Additionally, the results of these assays led to the realization that high levels of circulating a-PL Abs over long periods are associated with a number of clinical problems now known collectively as the antiphospholipid syndrome.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)724-739
Number of pages16
JournalSeminars in Arthritis and Rheumatism
Issue number5
StatePublished - 1997
Externally publishedYes


  • β2-glycoprotein I
  • antiphospholipid antibodies
  • cardiolipin
  • lupus anticoagulant
  • Phospholipids

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine
  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine
  • Rheumatology


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