A well-characterized 69.5 x 10(3) dalton glycoprotein fetal antigen (FA), isolated from the spent culture medium of a melanoma cell line, UCLA-SO-14 (M14), was utilized to characterize the antigen component of circulating immune complexes (CIC) from melanoma patients. Ten serum samples from five patients with stage II melanoma at 1 and 4 months prior to the clinical detection of recurrent disease were selected for study. The CIC were dissociated with low pH and ultrafiltered through a 100 x 10(3) dalton exclusion limit membrane. The low pH treatment resulted in an increase in antibody titer in eight of ten serum samples. The antibody activity in membrane immunofluorescence was quantitatively inhibited by the filtered antigen fraction and purified FA, suggesting the presence of anti-FA antibodies in the treated serum, which possibly were complexed with FA in the untreated sample. As determined by competitive inhibition in an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay, the filtrate (antigen fraction) contained an antigen that was immunologically similar to FA. These results clearly demonstrate that FA, expressed on the cell surface of melanoma cells, is present in CIC of selected melanoma patients.