Unselected sera from patients with various rheumatic, inflammatory bowel, and autoimmune skin diseases (n = 268) were examined against human cell lysate by immunoblotting procedures, to determine the prevalence of autoantibodies to stress proteins (heat-shock proteins) hsp60 (homolog of Escherichia coli groEL and mycobacterial 65K antigens), hsp73, and hsp90. Using standard, sensitive and specific assay conditions, IgG and IgM autoantibodies to these stress proteins were not demonstrable, or were detected infrequently, in sera from control subjects (n = 36) and from patients with rheumatoid arthritis, Sjögren's syndrome, ankylosing spondylitis, Reiter's syndrome, systemic lupus erythematosus, and systemic sclerosis. Autoantibodies to hsp60 were relatively more common (greater than or equal to 20% of sera) in patients with mixed connective tissue disease, polymyositis/dermatomyositis, psoriatic arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, epidermolysis bullosa acquisita, and bullous pemphigoid. Anti-hsp73 autoantibodies were detected in 20% or more of the sera from patients with Lyme disease and ulcerative colitis. Taken together, these data extend the spectrum of autoimmune and inflammatory diseases in which humoral anti-stress protein autoreactivity develops. However, the paucity of humoral autoreactivity to stress proteins in patients with systemic lupus erythematosus and rheumatoid arthritis argues against a direct role of anti-stress protein autoantibodies in the pathogenesis of these disorders.