Although circulating anti-neutrophil cytoplasmic antibodies (ANCA) specific for myeloperoxidase (MPO) are strongly associated with the presence of vasculitis, they have been described in sera from patients with other conditions. High levels of anti-MPO antibodies can also persist in sera from patients with vasculitis despite the achievement of clinical remission. One possible interpretation is that a potentially pathogenic subset of anti-MPO antibodies exists, which is only present in patients with active vasculitis. We therefore compared the characteristics of anti-MPO antibodies in sera from patients with active vasculitis (n = 18) with those present in remission (n = 9) and in a disease control group (n = 10) without clinical evidence of vasculitis. The class, subclass and ability of anti-MPO antibodies from the three groups of patients to recognize three different conformational epitopes were analysed using ELISA-based techniques. The expression of an idiotope, designated 9G4, was also examined. Epitope recognition by anti-MPO antibodies from all patients tested was found to be similar. Sera from patients with active vasculitis showed an over-representation of IgG4 subclass anti-MPO antibodies and a more frequent presence of IgM class anti-MPO antibodies. In disease controls, IgG1 anti-MPO antibodies were predominant. In vitro, neutrophil activation by ANCA has been shown to be dependent on engagement of neutrophil FcγRIIa receptors following binding of these autoantibodies to surface-expressed ANCA antigens. We found that active vasculitis may be associated with the presence of circulating anti-MPO antibodies which do not significantly bind this receptor, suggesting that mechanisms other than those dependent on FcγRIIa binding should be explored. In addition, the expression of the 9G4 idiotope on anti-MPO antibodies in 60% (12/18) of patients with active vasculitis and 20% (2/10) of disease control patients may indicate a common origin for anti-MPO antibodies in different individuals.