It is possible to identify, in Epstein-Barr virus-transformed normal human cord blood B cell populations, cells present at a low frequency that produce IgG antibodies specific for dsDNA. By cloning out these B cells as immortalized monoclonal cell lines, it could be shown that the antibodies were the products of CD5 positive B cells. Two monoclonal anti-dsDNA antibodies were derived from cell lines T52 and A7 and these were further characterized as anionic (pI approximately 6.4) IgG4 kappa antibodies that bound with affinities of 7.18 x 10(9) l/mol and 3.28 x 10(9) l/mol, respectively, to dsDNA but did not bind to ssDNA. These affinities were similar to those of polyclonal IgG anti-dsDNA antibodies from lupus patients, which ranged from 1 x 10(9) -8.9 x 10(10) l/mol. Both T52 and A7 monoclonal anti-dsDNA antibodies were recognized by cord blood-derived IgM antibodies. These IgM antibodies were not rheumatoid factors but bound to the F(ab')2 of A7 and T52 while failing to recognize T50, which is an autologous IgG4 kappa monoclonal antibody without specificity for dsDNA. A cloned B cell line A24 generated from the same cord blood sample as A7 produced an IgM monoclonal antibody that bound to the heavy chains of T52 and A7, but not T50 on Western blot and inhibited the binding of these antibodies to dsDNA. A7 and T52 competitively inhibited each other in their binding to the anti-idiotype A24, and A24 inhibited the binding to dsDNA of some polyclonal IgG anti-dsDNA antibodies purified from sera of lupus patients. The level of inhibition of binding of these antibodies to dsDNA was directly proportional to the levels of expression of the idiotype recognized by A24 on these antibodies. The normal human cord blood, therefore, may contain cells that form an idiotype/anti-idiotype network in which the idiotype is expressed on IgG antibodies with specificity for dsDNA and the anti-idiotype is an IgM antibody that binds to a heavy chain idiotope in such a way as to interfere with its interaction with dsDNA. The presence of a similar idiotype on some polyclonal anti-dsDNA antibodies in lupus that are similarly inhibitable by the cord blood-derived anti-idiotype raises the possibility that this network may persist in later life and perhaps become dysfunctional in systemic lupus erythematosus.