Patients treated with procainamide and other drugs commonly develop antinuclear antibodies and occasionally symptoms of lupus erythematosus. However, the pathological events which lead to clinical symptoms in some patients but only abnormal serology in others have not been established. The present study examines the incidence, amount, immunoglobulin class, and antigen-binding specificity of anti-histone and anti-denatured DNA (anti-dDNA) antibodies in three groups of patients. These comprised a prospective study of patients treated with procainamide, patients with clinical drug-induced lupus symptoms, and a group undergoing therapy for many years without any symptoms. Procainamide elicited IgG and IgM anti-dDNA antibodies concordantly. Anti-histone IgM antibodies also appeared de novo during this period but IgG anti-histone antibodies were detected less frequently. Asymptomatic patients tended to have an antibody profile consisting of highly elevated anti-dDNA, IgM antibodies reactive with all histones and IgG antibodies specific for only one or two histone classes. In contrast symptomatic patients usually had little anti-dDNA or antibodies to individual histones but had pronounced IgG antibodies to the histone complex H2A-H2B. This unique antibody was characteristics of procainamide-induced lupus and was not detected in patients whose disease was induced by hydralazine. Anti-(H2A-H2B) decreased after procainamide was discontinued, concomitant with subsidence of symptoms. The finding that autoantibodies elicited by procainamide in patients with lupus symptoms have a characteristic immunoglobulin class and specificity may be of pathogenic significance and suggests that patients susceptible to procainamide-induced lupus have a unique immune response. In addition, this information could be of diagnostic value in predicting which procainamide-treated patients will develop overt symptoms of lupus.