Serum immunoglobulin A class antibodies reactive to the endomysial lining of the smooth muscle bundles of the gastrointestinal tract have recently been reported to be specific and sensitive indicators of celiac disease (CD). A total of 203 subjects were examined for serum endomysial antibodies (EmA) and in 103 small bowel biopsies were obtained. EmA were detected in 43 cases including 26 CD patients evaluated during the gluten challenge phase of diagnosis by European Society for Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition criteria, 11 of 53 symptomatic patients, and 6 asymptomatic family members. All patients with detectable antibody at the time of biopsy exhibited grade III-IV villous atrophy. Disaccharidase activities performed in 19 cases revealed severe deficiencies. EmA were not detected in 160 subjects including 42 infants and children with chronic nonspecific diarrhea. Eighteen of these possessed grade II-III villous atrophy with moderate disaccharidase deficiency and 24 were found to have normal histology and enzymes. The EmA were also not detected in 3 CD patients who were well maintained on a gluten-free diet for greater than 1 year and 25 asymptomatic family members exhibiting normal histology and enzymes. An additional 90 infants and children with other gastrointestinal and liver diseases were also negative for the serum EmA. Fourteen of these patients underwent biopsies and were demonstrated to have normal histology.