A novel 5S RNA-protein (RNP) complex in human and mouse cells has been analyzed using patient autoantibodies. The RNP is small (approximately 7S) and contains most of the nonribosome-associated 5S RNA molecules in HeLa cells. The 5S RNA in the particle is matured at its 3' end, consistent with the results of in vivo pulse-chase experiments which indicate that this RNP represents a later step in 5S biogenesis than a previously described 5S*/La protein complex. The protein moiety of the 5S RNP has been identified as ribosomal protein L5, which is known to be released from ribosomes in a complex with 5S after various treatments of the 60S subunit. Indirect immunofluorescence indicates that the L5/5S complex is concentrated in the nucleolus. L5 may therefore play a role in delivering 5S rRNA to the nucleolus for assembly into ribosomes.