Antibodies to DNA are quite specific for systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) and occur in the majority of SLE patients. Therefore, their detection is an important diagnostic aid to the clinician. Detection of anti-dsDNA may precede the diagnosis of SLE by more than a year. Fluctuations in the level of anti-dsDNA in an individual patient may give important information on the clinical status of the patient. Four of the most important methods developed for the measurement of anti-dsDNA antibodies will be discussed in this paper: the Farr assay, the PEG assay, the indirect immunofluorescence test on Crithidia luciliae and the ELISA. They will also be compared with one commercially available (Farr) assay, the Amersham anti-dsDNA kit. Each method, detects a part of the spectrum of anti-dsDNA antibodies produced by a patient. The Farr assay is the most specific for SLE; however, milder forms of the disease in which patients have only low avidity anti-dsDNA may easily be missed by this technique. Clinically, high avidity anti-dsDNA is related more frequently to the occurrence of nephritis, whereas low avidity anti-dsDNA antibodies are found more often in patients with central nervous system involvement. Traditionally, SLE is considered an immune-complex disease, in which inflammatory processes are initiated by local deposition of DNA/anti-dsDNA complexes. More recently, a major role was thought to be played by crossreactions of anti-dsDNA with tissue constituents. Our current view, however, is that such a crossreactivity plays only a minor role; we postulate that binding to glomerular constituents is caused by anti-dsDNA antibodies complexed with DNA and histones.