Human parvovirus B19 infection in adults shows some clinical features similar to those found in autoimmune connective tissue diseases. To better clarify the relationship between viral infection and autoimmunity, we have evaluated the ability of anti-parvovirus antibodies to specifically recognize autoantigens in ten patients with chronic symmetric arthritis resembling rheumatoid arthritis or with recurrent episodes of arthritis and cutaneous manifestations and persistence of specific IgM antibodies against B19 parvovirus. We synthetized a 24-amino acid immunodominant peptide corresponding to a part of the virus protein 1 and virus protein 2 overlapping region. The peptide has been used to test patients' sera at different time points with an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) and to purify anti-virus antibodies by affinity chromatography on a peptide-Sepharose column. Eluted immunoglobulins recognized the B19 peptide in both direct and competitive ELISA. Affinity-purified anti-parvovirus antibodies were then tested on a panel of autoantigens including human keratin, collagen type II, thyreoglobulin, single-strand (ss)DNA, cardiolipin and ribonucleoprotein antigen Sm. Eluted antibodies specifically recognized keratin, collagen type II, ssDNA and cardiolipin. Autoantibody activity was not detected in the immunoglobulin fraction after complete removal of anti-peptide antibodies and in antibodies eluted from normal donors. Epstein-Barr virus-transformed cell clones obtained from two subjects produced antibodies which simultaneously recognize the viral peptide and several autoantigens. To further confirm the role of the virus in inducing an autoantibody response, eight BALB/c mice were immunized with the viral peptide coupled to a carrier protein. Autoantibody activity against keratin, collagen II, cardiolipin and ssDNA was detected in six of the eight mice which developed a strong anti-virus response. Together, these data indicate that B19 parvovirus may be linked to the induction of an autoimmune response.