Intraperitoneal injection of human fetal cartilage proteoglycan (depleted of chondroitin sulfate) in Freund's complete or incomplete adjuvant induces a chronic erosive polyarthritis and spondylitis in all female BALB/c mice. This occurrence is strain-specific but not haplotype-specific, and it is sex-related. The development of the arthritis is associated with the natural presence of cellular immunity to the immunizing antigen and to chondroitinase ABC-treated mouse cartilage proteoglycan. In addition, relatively more antibody to the immunizing proteoglycan is elicited in arthritic mice, and antibodies are produced that cross-react with native mouse proteoglycan. This combination of immune responses is not observed in mice that do not develop arthritis. Associated with the arthritis is the development of cytotoxicity to mouse chondrocytes and, in some animals, of rheumatoid factor, immune deposits in joint tissues and kidneys, and the production of autoantibodies to mouse type II collagen. These observations might be related to our earlier demonstration that immunity to human cartilage proteoglycan is observed in some patients with ankylosing spondylitis.