Anti-liver-kidney microsome antibodies (anti-LKM) occur in autoimmune hepatitis (AIH) type II and in a subset of patients with hepatitis C. Anti-LKM1 in AIH are directed against cytochrome P4502D6 (CYP2D6), but conflicting data exist concerning the specificity of anti-LKM in hepatitis C. The aim of this study was to evaluate binding specificities of anti-LKM antibodies in both diseases using novel test antigens as well as their inhibitory capacity on CYP2D6 enzyme activity. Sera from 22 patients with AIH type II and 17 patients with hepatitis C being anti-LKM-positive in the immunofluorescence test were investigated for binding to native recombinant CYP2D6 and liver microsomes by ELISA and immunoblotting, and to synthetic peptides covering the region 254-339 (254-273, 257-269, 270-294, 291-310, 307-324, 321-339, 373-389) as well as the novel peptide 196-218 by ELISA. Furthermore, all sera were tested for inhibition of CYP2D6-dependent bufuralol 1'-hydroxylase activity. Twenty of the 22 AIH type II sera (91%) and nine of the 17 hepatitis C sera (53%) were positive for CYP2D6 by ELISA and/or immunoblotting. The previously described major peptide epitope comprising CYP2D6 amino acids 257-269 was recognized by 16 of the 22 AIH sera but by only one hepatitis C serum. A further epitope, 196-218, could be defined for the first time as another immunodominant epitope for AIH because it was recognized by 15 of the 22 AIH (68%) but only three of the 17 hepatitis C sera (18%). With the exception of the peptide 254-273, the other peptides showed no significant reactivity. Analysing the inhibitory properties of anti-LKM antibodies it emerged that 95% of AIH sera and 88% of hepatitis C sera inhibited enzyme function. These data indicate that anti-LKM antibodies in AIH and hepatitis C react with CYP2D6, as shown by their inhibitory activity, and that besides the known epitope 257-269 a further immunodominant epitope exists on CYP2D6 which is recognized by sera from patients with AIH II but hardly by sera from patients with hepatitis C.