IgM anti-GM1 antibodies occur with increased frequency in the serum of patients with multifocal motor neuropathy (MMN). We tested the ability of serum IgM from patients with MMN to bind to GM1 ganglioside covalently bound to secondary amino groups on ELISA plates (Co-GM1). The Co-GM1 technique detected high titer (> 1,800), selective, serum IgM binding to GM1 ganglioside in 85% of our MMN patients (23/27), a significantly greater frequency compared with figures of 37% and 52% found using our previous testing methods. Selective IgM anti-GM1 antibodies showed disease specificity. The only other patients with selective, high-titer IgM anti-GM1 antibodies had either chronic motor neuropathy without conduction block or acute immune neuropathy in China. No patient from the amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy, Guillain-Barré, or systemic immune disorder control groups had selective IgM anti-GM1 antibodies at titers greater than 1,800 detected using Co-GM1 ganglioside as ELISA antigen. Titers of IgM anti-GM1 antibodies in MMN (averaging 31,000 +/- 15,000) were more than fourfold higher with Co-GM1 than with previous anti-GM1 assay methods, using conventional ELISA plates with GM-1 antigen alone (7,200 +/- 4,400) or in a lipid environment (3,600 +/- 1,300). We conclude that using ELISA testing with Co-GM1 antigen, serum anti-GM1 autoantibodies are a useful marker for MMN, because they are present in 85% of MMN patients and, at titers greater than 1,800, have strong specificity for immune-mediated motor neuropathies.