Stereospecific monoclonal antibodies (McAb) have been prepared against the tobacco alkaloid (S)-(-)-nicotine and its major metabolite (S)-(-)-cotinine. Nine anti-nicotine and 4 anti-cotinine hybridomas, selected by a screening procedure that utilized immunoprecipitation of the 3H-labeled natural isomers of nicotine or continine, were grown in the ascites fluid of pristane-primed syngeneic BALB/c mice. Antibodies in concentrations up to 7.5 mg/ml ascites and with binding affinities that generally exceeded 10(8) M-1 were obtained. Enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays (ELISAs) were developed in which nicotine or cotinine derivatives bound covalently to poly-L-lysine were coated onto wells of polyvinyl chloride microtiter plates. Coated wells were incubated sequentially with McAb in the presence or absence of inhibitor, rabbit anti-mouse immunoglobulin, then horseradish peroxidase-labeled protein A (HRP-SpA) before addition of substrate. The antibodies are highly specific and show minimal cross-reactivity with several nicotine metabolites and other structurally related compounds. In the respective assays, only 0.25 ng (S)-(-)-nicotine and 0.12 ng (S)-(-)-cotinine are required to give 50% inhibition of antibody binding, and as little as 0.05 ng nicotine and 0.02 ng cotinine give 15% inhibition. These assays are 5-10 times more sensitive than analogous ELISAs developed with rabbit antisera and HRP-SpA or conventional radioimmunoassays (RIAs) that utilize the rabbit antisera and 3H-labeled ligands. There was good correlation between the levels of nicotine (r = 0.967) and cotinine (r = 0.981) found in saliva samples from smokers and non-smokers assayed by McAb-based ELISAs and conventional RIAs.