Lichen sclerosus is a common, acquired chronic inflammatory skin disease of unknown etiology, although circulating autoantibodies to the glycoprotein extracellular matrix protein 1 (ECM1) have been detected in most patients' sera. We have examined the nature of ECM1 epitopes in lichen sclerosus sera, developed an ELISA system for serologic diagnosis, and assessed clinicopathological correlation between ELISA titer and disease. Epitope-mapping studies revealed that lichen sclerosus sera most frequently recognized the distal second tandem repeat domain and carboxyl-terminus of ECM1. We analyzed serum autoantibody reactivity against this immunodominant epitope in 413 individuals (95 subjects with lichen sclerosus, 161 normal control subjects, and 157 subjects with other autoimmune basement membrane or sclerosing diseases). The ELISA assay was highly sensitive; 76 of 95 lichen sclerosus patients (80.0%) exhibited IgG reactivity. It was also highly specific (93.7%) in discriminating between lichen sclerosus and other disease/control sera. Higher anti-ECM1 titers also correlated with more longstanding and refractory disease and cases complicated by squamous cell carcinoma. Furthermore, passive transfer of affinity-purified patient IgG reproduced some histologic and immunopathologic features of lichen sclerosus skin. This new ELISA is valuable for the accurate detection and quantification of anti-ECM1 autoantibodies. Moreover, the values may have clinical significance in patients with lichen sclerosus.
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