The ability of synthetic peptides encompassing almost the entire sequence of snRNP U1A polypeptide to be recognized in ELISA by sera of autoimmune patients was investigated. Sera from 18 patients with mixed connective tissue disease (MCTD), 145 with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) and 120 with other rheumatic autoimmune diseases were tested with 13 overlapping peptides. Among them, peptide 257-282 and, to a lower extent, peptide 1-11 were recognized by MCTD, SLE and Sjögren's syndrome sera. In contrast, peptide 35-58 was recognized by 94% of MCTD and only 19% of SLE sera. It did not react with any of the other patient sera. The ELISA results were compared with the pattern of reactivity observed in immunoblotting. The results indicate that peptide 35-58 probably contains a major epitope recognized by MCTD autoantibodies. It is noteworthy that in snRNP particles, this region of U1A interacts with RNA and presents only limited homology with the corresponding sequence 32-50 of U2B''.