To determine the role of collagen-immunity in the development of collagen-induced arthritis, DBA/1 mice were immunized with type II collagen and observed for the development of polyarthritis. 96% of the mice immunized with native type II collagen developed inflammatory arthritis between 4 and 5 wk after primary immunization. Immunization with denatured type II collagen in exactly the same manner was not effective in inducing arthritis. Cell-mediated immunity in arthritic mice was assessed by measuring [3H]thymidine incorporation by mononuclear cells cultured in the presence of collagen. The maximal proliferative response to collagen occurred at 2 wk after immunization. Equally good incorporation of label occurred when cells were cultured with native or denatured type II collagen or type I collagen. The cellular response of nonarthritic mice immunized with denatured collagen was indistinguishable from that seen in arthritic mice. Humoral immunity was assessed by an ELISA assay for antibodies to collagen. The immunoglobulin M (IgM) response peaked at 2 wk and the IgG response at 5 wk after immunization. Antisera from arthritic mice immunized with native type II collagen were relatively specific for conformational determinants on the native type II molecule although some reactivity with denatured collagen was noted. Antisera from nonarthritic mice immunized with denatured collagen primarily recognized covalent structural determinants. It was concluded that native type II collagen was essential for the induction of arthritis and that an antibody response specific for native type II collagen may be important for the development of arthritis.