Antibodies against neutrophils have been detected in sera from patients with primary sclerosing cholangitis and inflammatory bowel diseases either by immunofluorescence or by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay. To assess primary sclerosing cholangitis-specific antibodies, we examined sera from 30 patients with clinically and morphologically well-established primary sclerosing cholangitis by Western blotting against neutrophils and compared these results with those obtained by testing sera from patients with inflammatory bowel diseases. By Western blot using sonified neutrophils, 24 (80%) of 30 primary sclerosing cholangitis sera were positive. Five antigenic determinants at 95, 60, 55, 40 and 30 kD were visualized. Twenty-eight of the primary sclerosing cholangitis sera also showed the characteristic perinuclear fluorescence pattern by immunofluorescence on neutrophils. Thus a serological diagnosis of primary sclerosing cholangitis could be made in 80% of patients based on these two methods. In contrast, only 9% of 23 patients with ulcerative colitis and 10% of 60 patients with Crohn's disease were positive by Western blot, and these patients also showed positive perinuclear fluorescence pattern by immunofluorescence, suggesting an overlap between inflammatory bowel diseases and primary sclerosing cholangitis. Although some patients with classical primary biliary cirrhosis and autoimmune chronic active hepatitis had antibodies against primary sclerosing cholangitis epitopes, none of the patients with obstructive bile duct disorders, collagen diseases, Wegener's granulomatosis or other hepatic and nonhepatic disorders were positive by Western blot, indicating the specificity of these five primary sclerosing cholangitis-related neutrophilic epitopes.