Enhanced MHC class II (Ia) antigen expression is a common feature of autoimmunity. The authors investigated the occurrence of renal Ia expression in MRL/MpJ-lpr/lpr (MRL/lpr) mice with lupus nephritis. By immunoperoxidase staining, normal C3H/FeJ and the congenic strain MRL/MpJ-+/+ express Ia in mononuclear cells in the interstitium only, whereas MRL/lpr with nephritis have abundant Ia expression in proximal tubules (PT), mainly towards the basolateral membrane, and in the characteristic perivascular infiltrates. To a lesser extent, enhanced Ia expression is also observed in the interstitium and in the glomerular mesangium. By Northern blot analysis, the increase in Ia surface determinants correlates with an increased steady-state level of class II mRNA for both I-A and I-E. Ia expression on PT starts focally at around 2-months of age, often in proximity to vascular infiltrates, and precedes overt glomerulo-nephritis and proteinuria. Enhanced class II expression is not restricted to the kidney. MRL/lpr have also increased interstitial class II antigen expression in liver, lung, and spleen compared with normal C3H/FeJ mice. Thus, MRL/lpr mice have enhanced systemic Ia expression, but Ia antigen expression is particularly prominent in PT and may play a key role in the initiation and progression of lupus nephritis.