The simultaneous detection of anti-La, anti-60-kD Ro and anti-52-kD Ro antibodies by immunoblotting is greatly improved by changing the crosslinking level in the gel to an acrylamide/bisacrylamide ratio of 19:1. Using this method for the analysis of a number of systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) and Sjögren's syndrome patient sera it was observed that antibody to the 52-kD Ro protein without anti-60-kD Ro antibody was restricted to Sjögren's syndrome patients (9/26), whereas antibody to the 60-kD Ro protein without contaminating anti-52-kD Ro antibody was only found in SLE patients (8/38). Moreover, in Sjögren's syndrome patient sera anti-Ro antibody was found only in combination with anti-La antibody (20/26), whereas in SLE patient sera anti-Ro antibody could be found without detectable anti-La specificity (4/38). Double immunofluorescence microscopy revealed that the 52-kD Ro and the 60-kD Ro proteins co-localize in the cytoplasm as well as in the nucleus, whereas immunoprecipitation of [32P]-labelled HeLa cell extract with monospecific anti-52-kD Ro and anti-60-kD Ro sera showed that both proteins are associated with the Ro RNAs. These data suggest the presence of both the 52-kD and the 60-kD Ro proteins in the same ribonucleoprotein complexes. To study the evolutionary conservation of the 52-kD Ro, the 60-kD Ro and the La proteins, extracts of cell lines derived from various mammalian species were analysed on Western blots using monospecific human antibodies. In contrast to the 60-kD Ro and the La antigens which are well conserved in evolution, the 52-kD Ro antigen could be detected in primate cells only by this immunological approach.