Front Immunol. 2022 Oct 20;13:972161. doi: 10.3389/fimmu.2022.972161. eCollection 2022.
Autoantibodies (Abs) are biomarkers for many disease conditions and are increasingly used to facilitate diagnosis and treatment decisions. To guarantee high sensitivity and specificity, the choice of their detection method is crucial. Via cell-based assays, we recently found 21 patients with neurological diseases positive for antibodies against argonaute (AGO), 10 of which having a neuropathy (NP). Here, we established a simple and conformation-sensitive ELISA with the aim to distinguish between AGO1 Abs against conformational epitopes and non-conformational epitopes and to reveal further characteristics of AGO1 antibodies in NP and autoimmune disease (AID). In a retrospective multicenter case/control and observational study, we tested 434 patients with NP, 274 disease controls with AID, and 116 healthy controls (HC) for AGO1 Abs via conformation-stabilizing ELISA. Seropositive patients were also tested for conformation-specificity via comparative denaturing/stabilizing ELISA (CODES-ELISA), CBA positivity, AGO1 titers and IgG subclasses, and AGO2 reactivity. These parameters were statistically compared among different epitope-specific patient groups. We found Abs in 44 patients, including 28/434 (6.5%) NP, 16/274 (5.8%) AID, and 0/116 (0%) HC. Serum reactivity was consistently higher for AGO1 than AGO2. Globally among the 44 AGO1 Abs-positive patients, 42 were also tested in CBA for AGO1 Abs positivity and 15 (35.7%) were positive. Furthermore, 43 were tested for conformation-specificity and 32 (74.4%) bound a conformational epitope. Among the subgroups of highly positive patients (ELISA z-score >14) with sera binding conformational epitopes (n=23), 14 patient sera were also CBA positive and 9 bound a second conformational but CBA-inaccessible epitope. A third, non-conformational epitope was bound by 11/43 (15.6%). Among the epitope-specific patient subgroups, we found significant differences regarding the Abs titers, IgG subclass, and AGO2 reactivity. When comparing AGO1 Abs-positive NP versus AID patients, we found the conformation-specific and CBA inaccessible epitope significantly more frequently in AID patients. We conclude that 1) conformational ELISA was more sensitive than CBA in detecting AGO1 Abs, 2) serum reactivity is higher for AGO1 than for AGO2 at least for NP patients, 3) AGO1 Abs might be a marker-of-interest in 6.5% of NP patients, 4) distinguishing epitopes might help finding different patient subgroups.