A complement-fixing immunofluorescence assay on HEp-2 cells was used to assess the ability of various antinuclear antibodies (ANA) to activate complement. Sera which contained only specific antibodies to nuclear RNP, SS-B/La, centromere, Sm antigen, double-stranded DNA, and/or nuclear histone were selected. Relative abilities of various ANA to activate complement were determined from the ratio of titers of C3, C4, or properdin-fixing ANA to the IgG ANA titers. Nuclear RNP-anti-RNP complexes activated and deposited significantly more complement C3 than other ANA (P less than 0.02). Antibodies to SS-B/La, centromere, and Sm activated more complement than anti-DNA or antihistone (P less than 0.02). Antihistone antibodies activated the least complement. These studies demonstrate that different ANA have significantly different orders of complement-activating capabilities when bound to their respective nuclear antigens.