The reactivity of autoantibodies present in the sera of 489 patients with Sjögren's syndrome (SS), systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) and other autoimmune diseases was investigated by ELISA using recombinant 52-kD SSA/Ro protein (rRo52) and 39 overlapping synthetic peptides representing the entire sequence of Ro52. We report that IgG antibodies reacting with rRo52 were present in the sera of a large number of patients with SS (67% of patients with primary SS and 46% of patients with SS associated with SLE), whereas they were less frequent (10-25%) in SLE, rheumatoid arthritis (RA), juvenile chronic arthritis (JCA) and mixed connective tissue disease (MCTD), and absent in scleroderma. Among the 39 peptides tested, five were recognized by sera from 30-65% of patients with SS, namely peptides representing residues 2-11, 107-122, 107-126, 277-292 and 365-382. Patients with JCA had raised levels of IgG antibodies reacting with peptides 2-11 and 365-382, and 51% of patients with MCTD had raised levels of IgG antibodies reacting with peptide 365-382. None of the five peptides was recognized by more than 20% of sera from patients with SLE and RA. Interestingly, and of importance in the field of diagnostic tests based on peptides, the reactivity of antibodies to the Ro52 synthetic peptides varied greatly according to the origin of sera. Inhibition experiments using either patients' sera or antibodies induced in rabbits against Ro52 peptides showed that the four domains 2-11, 107-122, 277-292 and 365-382 are accessible on the surface of the Ro52 protein. These regions may thus be involved in the induction of specific antibodies in autoimmune patients.