The major rheumatoid factor cross reactive idiotype (RCRI), defined by prototypic monoclonal rheumatoid factors (RFs), is expressed as a dominant idiotype by pokeweed mitogen induced plasma cells obtained from seropositive (RF+) patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Some patients who meet clinical diagnostic criteria for RA set by the American Rheumatism Association fail to express RFs at any time during their clinical course. To determine if seronegative (RF-) patients with RA, so designated by the latex fixation, Rose-Waaler classic binding assays, or a RF enzyme linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA), express the RCRI in the absence of detectable RFs we examined pokeweed mitogen plasma cells from these patients by indirect immunofluorescence. In addition, we used an inhibition ELISA to detect RCRI bearing molecules in the sera of RF- patients with RA. Five of 10 RF- patients with RA had a high prevalence of RCRI+ plasma cells (16-49% of total pokeweed mitogen plasma cells in culture). Six of 20 RF- patients with RA had high serum concentrations of molecules marked by the RCRI, equivalent to 21-110 micrograms/ml of RCRI+ reference monoclonal IgM RF. Four of five patients who expressed the RCRI in high prevalence in pokeweed mitogen plasma cells, also demonstrated high concentrations of RCRI in their sera detected by inhibition ELISA. There was significant concordance of RCRI expression determined by the two different assays. Four RF- patients with RA who expressed RCRI in their whole sera had hidden RFs detected in their 19S and, in one case, 7S serum fraction. Detection of RF related molecules in whole sera by the expression of RCRI in RF- patients with RA identifies a subgroup of RF- patients with RA who possess hidden RFs. Some RF- patients with RA can express the major RCRI in pokeweed mitogen plasma cells and in their sera and therefore are related to patients with prototypic Waldenstrom's macroglobulinaemia, who produce RCRI+ 19S IgM monoclonal RFs.
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