Anti-Ro sera immunoprecipitate Ro ribonucleoproteins (RNPs) from human cell extracts. Ro RNPs are biochemically heterogeneous particles whose functions are unknown and whose exact composition remains controversial. In addition to 60-kD Ro and to La proteins, a 52-kD polypeptide (p52) has been proposed to be a stable component of the Ro RNPs. To confirm the immunological studies supporting this hypothesis, we have biochemically purified Ro RNPs from HeLa cells using non-denaturing conditions. Ro RNPs segregated into three distinct populations, one of which only contained hY5 RNA (RohY5 RNPs). No p52 co-purified with Ro RNPs. Despite the absence of p52, purified Ro RNPs had biochemical and immunological properties identical to those of unfractionated Ro RNPs. Many anti-Ro sera only recognize p52 in immunoblots, and are said to be monospecific anti-p52. Preincubation with purified RohY5 RNPs (free of p52) of all human anti-Ro (including so-called monospecific anti-p52) sera abolished their capacity to immunoprecipitate Ro RNPs from unfractionated HeLa cell extracts. Conversely, preincubation of anti-Ro sera with purified p52 protein specifically inhibited recognition of p52 in immunoblots, but did not interfere with immunoprecipitation of Ro RNPs. Our data demonstrate that anti-p52 antibodies do not target intact Ro RNPs, nor do they target the native 60-kD Ro protein. Contrary to previous reports, p52 protein is not a stable component of antigenically intact Ro RNPs.