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Haematologica

Complement deposition in autoimmune hemolytic anemia is a footprint for difficult-to-detect IgM autoantibodies.


PMID 26354757

Abstract

In autoimmune hemolytic anemia autoantibodies against erythrocytes lead to increased clearance of the erythrocytes, which in turn results in a potentially fatal hemolytic anemia. Depending on whether IgG or IgM antibodies are involved, response to therapy is different. Proper identification of the isotype of the anti-erythrocyte autoantibodies is, therefore, crucial. However, detection of IgM autoantibodies can be challenging. We, therefore, set out to improve the detection of anti-erythrocyte IgM. Direct detection using a flow cytometry-based approach did not yield satisfactory improvements. Next, we analyzed whether the presence of complement C3 on a patient's erythrocytes could be used for indirect detection of anti-erythrocyte IgM. To this end, we fractionated patients' sera by size exclusion chromatography and tested which fractions yielded complement deposition on erythrocytes. Strikingly, we found that all patients with C3 on their erythrocytes according to standard diagnostic tests had an IgM anti-erythrocyte component that could activate complement, even if no such autoantibody had been detected with any other test. This also included all tested patients with only IgG and C3 on their erythrocytes, who would previously have been classified as having an IgG-only mediated autoimmune hemolytic anemia. Depleting patients' sera of either IgG or IgM and testing the remaining complement activation confirmed this result. In conclusion, complement activation in autoimmune hemolytic anemia is mostly IgM-mediated and the presence of covalent C3 on patients' erythrocytes can be taken as a footprint of the presence of anti-erythrocyte IgM. Based on this finding, we propose a diagnostic workflow that will aid in choosing the optimal treatment strategy.

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