Specific immunoreactive anti-Klebsiella antibodies are found in patients with ankylosing spondylitis (AS), a significant proportion of whom have occult inflammatory bowel disease. Molecular mimicry between Klebsiella or other bacterial antigens and HLA-B27 has been suggested in the pathogenesis of AS. The specificity of increased immunoreactivity against Klebsiella remains to be assessed against the abundant anaerobic bacterial flora, present either in healthy controls or in patients with ulcerative colitis (UC) and Crohn's disease (CD). Total immunoglobulin (Ig; IgG, IgA, IgM) immunoreactivity was measured by ELISA against Klebsiella pneumoniae, Proteus mirabilis, Escherichia coli and ten anaerobic isolates of the predominant normal bowel flora in 35 patients with active AS, 60 patients with inflammatory bowel disease (30 CD, 30 UC), 60 patients with active rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and 60 healthy controls. Ig immunoreactivity to K. pneumoniae was significantly elevated in AS (P < 0.001), CD (P < 0.001) and UC (P < 0.001) patients compared with RA patients and healthy controls. Furthermore, Ig immunoreactivity to P. mirabilis was significantly elevated only in RA patients, compared with the other inflammatory groups (P < 0.001) and controls (P < 0.001). There was no significant antibody response against E. coli or the ten obligate anaerobes in any of the test groups. The data suggested an increased immune response to Klebsiella in patients with AS, UC, CD and to Proteus in patients with RA. The specificity of these responses in some patients supported a possible role for enteric Klebsiella in the pathogenesis of AS and Proteus in RA. The role of Klebsiella in inflammatory bowel disease requires further study.