Encephalitis and polyneuritis occurring after rabies vaccination are believed to be immunologically mediated. We studied antibody responses to neural antigens in 36 patients with major neurologic complications, 25 with minor complications, and 39 with no complications after immunization with a brain-derived, Semple rabies vaccine. Patients with major complications had significantly elevated levels of antibody to brain white matter as compared with the other groups (P less than 0.001). Assays for antibody to selected central nervous system antigens showed that high levels of serum and cerebrospinal fluid antibody to myelin basic protein correlated with the presence of major neurologic complications (both central and peripheral nervous systems). The level of antibody to cerebroside correlated best with the number of injections of vaccine, but like antibody to myelin basic protein, the antibody to cerebroside was present in the cerebrospinal fluid of patients with major complications. Some patients with major complications also had antibodies directed to the gangliosides GD1b and GT1b. No antibodies to myelin-associated glycoprotein were detected in any of the samples. These data implicate myelin basic protein as an encephalitogen in these autoimmune diseases of the human nervous system, but suggest that immune responses to cerebroside and certain gangliosides may have an augmentative role in severe disease.