Bronchiectasis (BR) occurs in about 3% of patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Defective antibody production is a rare but well-recognised cause of both BR and inflammatory arthritis. We examined the hypothesis that subtle specific antibody defects might play a role in the pathogenesis of BR associated with RA. Identification of defects in antibody production is important because substantial benefits may be gained from immunoglobulin replacement. Specific antibody production was assessed in 20 patients with RA and BR, 20 with BR alone, 20 with RA alone and 20 healthy controls (all groups matched for age and sex). All had normal total IgG. IgA and IgM and IgG subclass levels. Specific antibody production was assessed by assay of antibodies to representative polysaccharide and protein antigens. Subjects with subprotective titres were challenged with the appropriate vaccine. Defective antibody production was defined as a subprotective level despite immunisation. Three out of 20 patients with RA and BR had a defective IgG2 response to the polysaccharide antigen, but normal responses to the protein antigen. All of the subjects in the BR alone or healthy control group had normal antibody production. Two out of 20 patients with RA alone had defective production of antibodies against both protein and polysaccharide antigens; both were receiving gold therapy, a recognised cause of functional antibody defects. It was concluded that some patients with RA and BR have functional antibody defects and may benefit from antibody replacement. An unexpectedly high proportion of patients with RA alone also have functional antibody defects, possibly secondary to gold therapy.