The widespread occurrence of antibodies (IgG) specific to xanthine oxidase in both normal (nonimmune) human and animal sera, and in antisera raised against a diversity of unrelated antigens is described. A study of sera from 81 humans revealed that xanthine oxidase-specific IgG represents a high proportion (1-8%) of total IgG. No obvious correlation to pathological events or symptoms of disease could be found. These xanthine oxidase-specific antibodies could be isolated by immunoaffinity chromatography on purified human or bovine xanthine oxidase and showed specific binding to the enzyme polypeptide of Mr 155,000 in immunoblotting experiments. By immunofluorescence microscopy they displayed the same cell type-specific reaction as experimentally induced antibodies, i.e., the staining of lactating mammary gland epithelium and capillary endothelium. The naturally occurring xanthine oxidase-specific antibodies consisted of polyclonal IgG of various subclasses. F(ab')2 preparations gave immune-reactions identical to those of IgG. The human xanthine oxidase-specific IgG cross-reacted with the bovine enzyme and both human and animal antibodies partially inhibited its activity. The xanthine oxidase activity of human milk lipid globules and supernatant fractions from various human tissues was extremely low when compared with that of the bovine antigen. The enzyme protein, however, was effectively precipitated from these sources by both the human and bovine antibodies. We suggest that the exceptionally high concentrations of antibodies against one protein, xanthine oxidase, are due to self-immunization to the xanthine oxidase antigen present in endothelial cells of capillaries. We do not exclude, however, nutritional contributions of bovine milk antigen to the appearance of xanthine oxidase antibodies in human sera. The possible biological functions of this immunological reaction are discussed.
G Bruder, E D Jarasch, H W Heid