Anti-double-stranded DNA (dsDNA) antibodies are highly specific for the diagnosis of systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) but are heterogeneous in respect to, for example, avidity, class and cross-reactivity. Sera from 2061 patients were measured by three methods: an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA), an indirect immunofluorescence test with Crithidia luciliae as substrate (CLIF), and the Farr assay, a radioimmunological method based on the ammonium sulfate precipitation of immune complexes. The different anti-dsDNA antibody determinations were evaluated by analysis of patient records. The reason for a reactive Farr assay in 14 patients was predominantly the measurement of antibodies of the IgM class, which are not detected by the ELISA. The detection of additional antibodies to dsDNA of the IgA class, to single-stranded DNA or to histones plays a minor role. In comparison with the Farr assay, we found more positive results with the ELISA, which additionally detects anti-dsDNA antibodies of low avidity. The ELISA might also yield positive values in conditions such as chronic liver diseases, various infections and connective tissue diseases other than SLE. Avoiding the disadvantages of radioactivity, the ELISA is well suited as a screening test for dsDNA antibodies. However, positive results should be confirmed by the CLIF test or preferably by the Farr assay, thus combining sensitivity with specificity.