The sensitivity and specificity of the presence of antibodies to native DNA and low serum C3 levels were investigated in a prospective study in 98 patients with systemic lupus erythematosus who were followed for a mean of 38.4 months. Hospitalized patients, patients with other connective tissue diseases, and subjects without any disease served as the control group. Seventy-two percent of the patients with systemic lupus erythematosus had a high DNA-binding value (more than 33 percent) initially, and an additional 20 percent had a high DNA-binding value later in the course of the illness. Similarly, C3 levels were low (less than 81 mg/100 ml) in 38 percent of the patients with systemic lupus erythematosus initially and in 66 percent of the patients at any time during the study. High DNA-binding and low C3 levels each showed extremely high predictive value (94 percent) for the diagnosis of systemic lupus erythematosus when applied in a patient population in which that diagnosis was considered. The presence of both abnormalities was 100 percent correct in predicting the diagnosis os systemic lupus erythematosus. Both tests should be included in future criteria for the diagnosis and classification of systemic lupus erythematosus.