Serum amyloid P component (SAP) binds in vitro to DNA; based on findings in SAP-deficient mice it was proposed that SAP's role is to handle chromatin and DNA, thereby preventing formation of anti-DNA antibodies. For the first time we have shown the presence of Ca2+-dependent SAP-DNA complexes, measured by ELISA, in sera from both healthy volunteers and systemic lupus erythematosus patients (SLE). The concentration of SAP-DNA complexes in SLE sera was significantly lower than in normal sera and particularly low in sera from patients with anti-DNA titers exceeding 50. The complexes were dissociated by the SAP ligand heparin and were not demonstrable in EDTA plasma. Normal sera showed similar capacity to form SAP-DNA complexes with both thymus and Escherichia coli DNA, whereas significantly lower amounts of complexes, in particular with E. coli DNA, were formed in SLE sera. SLE patients with moderate to high anti-DNA titers showed a significant negative correlation between serum SAP's binding of E. coli DNA and the anti-DNA titer.