We have examined the relationship between IgM-rheumatoid factor (RF) and responses to second-line drugs in patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Patients with active RA who were beginning treatment with gold, methotrexate or both were studied. Clinical responses were assessed with ESR, joint count, grip strength and activities of daily living questionnaire scores. Production of IgM-RF by peripheral blood mononuclear cells in vitro and plasma levels of IgM-RF were measured by ELISA. Overall, 31 of 44 patients completing more than 6 months treatment improved including 10 treated with gold, 12 with MTX and 9 with both. Production of IgM-RF by peripheral blood mononuclear cells was decreased by 59% in patients who improved on treatment, but increased 2-fold in the unimproved group. Plasma levels of IgM-RF were decreased from 121 to 66 micrograms/ml in the improved group after 6 months of treatment, with similar decreases seen for each of the three treatments. In contrast, plasma IgM-RF levels in the unimproved group did not decrease until 1 year of treatment was completed. Nine patients converted to seronegativity, and all but one of these were in the improved group. The results suggest that IgM-RF is correlated with responses to second-line drug in RA patients.