In 18 of 20 patients with psychosis secondary to systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), autoantibodies to ribosomal P proteins were detected by immunoblotting and measured with a new radioimmunoassay using a synthetic peptide as antigen. The frequency of anti-P was not increased in patients with other central nervous system manifestations of SLE (3 of 20, by radioimmunoassay), in patients with transient behavioral abnormalities due to SLE (none of 8), in patients with psychosis who did not have SLE (none of 13), or in normal controls (none of 20). In four of five paired serum samples, anti-P-peptide antibody levels increased 5-fold to 30-fold during the active phase of lupus psychosis. Longitudinal studies of anti-P activity in two patients with psychosis revealed that anti-P levels increased before and during the active phases of psychosis but not during sepsis or other exacerbations of SLE, and that the elevations were selective for anti-P antibodies, as opposed to anti-DNA antibodies. Longitudinal studies of anti-P activity in two patients with anti-P but without psychosis showed less than threefold changes in anti-P levels despite exacerbations of disease. We conclude that anti-P is associated with lupus psychosis and that synthetic peptide antigens may be useful for the detection and measurement of autoantibodies to intracellular proteins.