The measurement of anti-double-stranded DNA (anti-dsDNA) antibodies is a useful tool for the diagnosis and the follow-up of systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). Anti-dsDNA antibodies are involved in the pathogenesis of lupus nephritis and they are, specially the high-avidity antibodies, the most specific antibodies associated with SLE nephritis and active SLE. The aim of the present study was to assess the clinical utility of an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (EUSA) that utilizes a circular double-stranded plasmid DNA as a nucleic acid source, adapted to an automated fluorescence immunoassay (EliA dsDNA, Pharmacia, Freiburg, Germany). Also, we compared this method with other immunoassays used in clinical laboratories. We have measured anti-dsDNA antibodies in the serum of 179 patients with a positive result for antinuclear antibodies (ANA). Seventy six sera were from SLE patients (14 men and 62 women), and the other 103 sera (from 20 men and 83 women) constituted the control group. This latter group includes nine Sjogren's syndrome patients, six patients with rheumatoid arthritis and 88 with various other diseases, including connective tissue diseases (n=34), hepatopathies (n= 17; 11 primary biliary cirrhosis and 6 autoimmune hepatitis), and 37 patients with nonautoimmune diseases (viral hepatitis, renal disease, diabetes, exanthema and hypertension). Methods used were "EliA dsDNA" (Pharmacia, Germany), "Varelisa dsDNA" (Pharmacia, Germany), Farr (Amersham, UK) and Chritidia luciliae immunofluorescence test (Vitro-Immun, Germany). We assessed sensitivity, specificity, positive predictive value and negative predictive value in the clinical study, and kappa index and scatter plots in the comparative study. The results show a low concordance between methods (kappa < 0.6). The evaluated EliA method shows a very good specificity for SLE (93.2%) and a good sensitivity for active SLE (70.8%).