The spliceosomal small nuclear ribonucleoproteins (snRNPs) U1, U2, U4/U6 and U5 share eight proteins B', B, D1, D2, D3, E, F and G which form the structural core of the snRNPs. This class of common proteins plays an essential role in the biogenesis of the snRNPs. In addition, these proteins represent the major targets for the so-called anti-Sm auto-antibodies which are diagnostic for systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). We have characterized the proteins F and G from HeLa cells by cDNA cloning, and, thus, all human Sm protein sequences are now available for comparison. Similar to the D, B/B' and E proteins, the F and G proteins do not possess any of the known RNA binding motifs, suggesting that other types of RNA-protein interactions occur in the snRNP core. Strikingly, the eight human Sm proteins possess mutual homology in two regions, 32 and 14 amino acids long, that we term Sm motifs 1 and 2. The Sm motifs are evolutionarily highly conserved in all of the putative homologues of the human Sm proteins identified in the data base. These results suggest that the Sm proteins may have arisen from a single common ancestor. Several hypothetical proteins, mainly of plant origin, that clearly contain the conserved Sm motifs but exhibit only comparatively low overall homology to one of the human Sm proteins, were identified in the data base. This suggests that the Sm motifs may also be shared by non-spliceosomal proteins. Further, we provide experimental evidence that the Sm motifs are involved, at least in part, in Sm protein-protein interactions. Specifically, we show by co-immunoprecipitation analyses of in vitro translated B' and D3 that the Sm motifs are essential for complex formation between B' and D3. Our finding that the Sm proteins share conserved sequence motifs may help to explain the frequent occurrence in patient sera of anti-Sm antibodies that cross-react with multiple Sm proteins and may ultimately further our understanding of how the snRNPs act as auto-antigens and immunogens in SLE.