Patients with hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), gastrointestinal, lung, and ovarian cancers were shown to have autoantibodies to nuclear and nucleolar antigens as detected by immunofluorescence on cell substrates. The frequency of antinuclear antibodies (ANAs) was significantly higher (P less than 0.001) in patients with HCC (57/184 = 31%) than in patients with chronic hepatitis or liver cirrhosis (25/187 = 13%). Although a range of fluorescence patterns was observed, a higher percentage of nucleolar fluorescence was detected in HCC, and three of these nucleolar antigens were identified. They were NOR-90, nucleolus organizer region doublet polypeptides of 93 and 89 kDa involved in RNA polymerase I transcription; fibrillarin, a 34 kDa protein of the nucleolar U3 ribonucleoprotein particle which is engaged in preribosomal RNA processing; and nucleophosmin/protein B23, a 37 kDa polypeptide which is associated with ribosome maturation and cellular proliferation. All these antigens are nucleolar components that are engaged in some aspect of ribosome biosynthesis. Since autoantibodies to these nucleolar antigens have also been found in systemic autoimmune diseases, they do not represent autoimmune reactions unique to cancer but might reflect reaction pathways related to immune responses that are antigen-driven. The ANA response in HCC appears to be dynamic reactions to this antigen-drive since some patients with chronic liver disease showed seroconversion to ANA positivity, marked increase in titer and/or change in antibody specificity preceding or coincident with clinical detection of HCC. These changes in ANA showed a close temporal relationship with transformation from long-established chronic liver disease to HCC.