We looked for the presence of the anti-Hu antibody in the sera from 50 normal subjects; 44 patients with small cell lung cancer, not associated with paraneoplastic disease; and 25 patients with small cell lung cancer associated with paraneoplastic sensory neuropathy, encephalomyelitis, or both. Using the avidin-biotin immunoperoxidase method and a highly sensitive quantitative Western blot analysis, the anti-Hu antibody was not detected in the 50 normal human sera. Seven of the 44 patients with small cell lung cancer but no paraneoplastic syndrome had detectable levels (average titer, 76 U/ml) of anti-Hu antibody on Western blot. These levels are significantly lower than the average titer of the 25 patients who had small cell lung cancer and paraneoplastic sensory neuropathy or encephalomyelitis (average titer, 4,592 U/ml). In the group with nonparaneoplastic small cell lung cancer (low anti-Hu titer) there was a predominance of women (5 women: 2 men), and all patients had "limited" disease when diagnosed. In the antibody-negative group the sex ratio was 16 women to 21 men and 51% of the patients had "extensive" disease. None of the 7 patients with a low-titer anti-Hu antibody developed a paraneoplastic syndrome by the time of writing. The anti-Hu antibody appears, when present, to be a good marker for small cell lung cancer and, when present at high titer, for small cell lung cancer associated with a paraneoplastic syndrome.