Autoantibodies against integral membrane proteins are usually pathogenic. Although anti-endothelial cell antibodies (AECAs) are considered to be critical, especially for vascular lesions in collagen diseases, most molecules identified as autoantigens for AECAs are localized within the cell and not expressed on the cell surface. For identification of autoantigens, proteomics and expression library analyses have been performed for many years with some success. To specifically target cell-surface molecules in identification of autoantigens, we constructed a serological identification system for autoantigens using a retroviral vector and flow cytometry (SARF). Here, we present an overview of recent research in AECAs and their target molecules and discuss the principle and the application of SARF. Using SARF, we successfully identified three different membrane proteins: fibronectin leucine-rich transmembrane protein 2 (FLRT2) from patients with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), intercellular adhesion molecule 1 (ICAM-1) from a patient with rheumatoid arthritis, and Pk (Gb3/CD77) from an SLE patient with hemolytic anemia, as targets for AECAs. SARF is useful for specific identification of autoantigens expressed on the cell surface, and identification of such interactions of the cell-surface autoantigens and pathogenic autoantibodies may enable the development of more specific intervention strategies in autoimmune diseases.
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