Bacterial pathogens of the genera Neisseria and Haemophilus secrete IgA1 proteinases which cleave human IgA1 in the heavy chain hinge region. The exact peptide bond cleaved is strain-dependent, but remains invariant despite repeated subculture. Haemophilus influenzae and Neisseria meningitidis produce proteinases of two cleavage site specificities (type 1 and type 2). We examined serial acute and convalescent sera from patients recovering from meningitis due to N. meningitidis or H. influenzae, and found a significant rise in serum titer of inhibitory antibodies against these enzymes. In each case the proteinase from the infecting organism was more susceptible to inhibition than were proteinases from that genus that had different cleavage specificity. Inhibition of sixteen type 1-type 2 hybrid H. influenzae IgA1 proteinases revealed complete concordance between inhibitory titer and cleavage site specificity. Inhibition of hybrid proteinases differing in a 123 amino acid segment known to determine cleavage site specificity (termed the CSD) further localized the site of antibody action to this site. These results from a limited number of patients with natural infections suggest that inhibiting antibody recognizes epitopes within the CSD. Alternatively, antibody may bind to epitopes outside the CSD and inhibit via steric hindrance.