Serum samples from 66 seropositive subjects (56 with a history of intravenous drug abuse), including asymptomatic carriers and patients with persistent generalised lymphadenopathy (PGL), AIDS related complex (ARC), and AIDS, were tested by indirect immunofluorescence on rat tissue sections and HEp-2 cells for the presence of antibodies to nuclei, smooth muscle, intermediate filaments (anti-IMF) and microfilaments (anti-MF). Counterimmunoelectrophoresis was also used to detect antibodies to extractable nuclear antigens. Smooth muscle antibodies with the V pattern or antinuclear antibodies, mainly of the speckled type, or anti-IMF, occurred in 35 cases, being widely distributed in all groups. Such an autoantibody response resembles the "viral" autoimmunity described in various infectious diseases and in particular that of non-A, non-B post-transfusion hepatitis. Autoantibodies may be of some prognostic relevance, as the prevalence of smooth muscle antibodies V increased as the disease progressed (asymptomatic carriers 20%, those with PGL 29%, those with ARC 47%, and those with AIDS 63%. In the PGL group autoantibody positivity correlated with the presence of skin anergy. The fact that autoantibodies were more frequently detected in patients with circulating immune complexes suggests that these can contain autoantibodies and the corresponding autoantigens.
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