Antibodies and How They Contribute to Lupus

antibody molecule
Antibody molecule. LAGUNA DESIGN/Science Photo Library/Getty Images


Acting as the body's army, antibodies are proteins produced by the body's immune system that are generally found in the blood that detect and destroy invaders, like bacteria and viruses. Antibodies come in different types, called isotypes. Mammals carry five isotypes, and each performs a different role in the body.

Antibodies and Autoimmune Disorders

Antibodies help protect our bodies from harm, but they can also create harm.

If the immune system mistakenly considers healthy tissue a harmful substance, antibodies may be produced, resulting in an autoimmune disorder. Essentially, in autoimmune disorders, the body attacks its own healthy cells with antibodies usually reserved for fighting off bacteria and viruses. (These antibodies that attack the cells and tissues of the organism in which they were formed are referred to as autoantibodies.)

The Role of Antibodies in Lupus

In lupus patients, a number of autoantibodies contribute to symptoms. In order to diagnoses lupus and get an accurate picture of an individual's disease, doctors will order a test to identify if any of the following antibodies are present in the body.

  • Antinuclear antibodies (ANA): Antinuclear antibodies damage and destroy cells by connecting or binding to the nucleus, or command center, of the cell. As many as 97 percent of people with lupus have ANA present in their body.
  • Antibodies to double-strand DNA (anti-dsDNA): These antibodies are present in half of people with lupus. They attack DNA, which is the genetic material inside the nucleus of the cell.
  • Antibodies to Sm: Thirty to 40 percent of people with lupus have this antibody present in their bodies, and having this antibody means it is very likely that you have lupus.
  • Antibodies to phospholipids (aPLs): Almost 30 percent of people with lupus test positive for these antibodies, which can cause narrowing of blood vessels, contributing to blood clots in the legs or lung, heart attack, miscarriage or stroke. It is the same antibody present in syphilis, which is why many people with lupus have false-positive test results for  syphilis.
  • Antibodies to Ro/SS-A and La/SS-B: People with Sjogren's syndrome, which commonly accompanies lupus. It's typically found in people with cutaneous lupus, which affects the skin and causes a rash that is very sensitive to the sun.
  • Antibodies to histone: Some people with lupus have this antibody in their body. It's most common in people with drug-induced lupus, caused by certain medications, and usually goes away once a person has come off the drug. Histone is a protein that surrounds the DNA molecule, and antibodies to histone attack the protein.
  • Antibodies to RNP (Anti-RNP): These antibodies are usually at very high levels in people whose symptoms combine features of more than one disease, including lupus. Anti-RNPs attack ribonuceloproteins, which are responsible for controlling chemical activities of cells.

    After your rheumatologist has identified the antibodies present in your body, he or she will have a better idea about how to approach treatment. Read these other helpful articles for more information about lupus treatment:

    4 Natural Remedies for Lupus

    10 Things You Should Know About Lupus

    Lupus Medications: What Are My Options?


    Lupus Foundation of America. (2013, July 8). What are the laboratory tests for lupus? Retrieved March 06, 2016.

    U.S. National Library of Medicine. (2014, October 27). Antibody: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. Retrieved March 06, 2016.

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