The quantitative expression of anti-DNA and anti-Sm antibodies has been investigated in autoimmune MRL-lpr/lpr and MRL-+/+ mice. Anti-Sm antibodies were detected in sera from 21/23 lpr/lpr and 10/16 +/+ mice, with individual animals showing striking variation in the time-course and magnitude of this autoantibody response. The peak antibody levels of the responding animals of each substrain did not differ significantly. For anti-DNA antibody, a different pattern of responsiveness was observed. Individual animals of each substrain produced very similar responses in terms of the magnitude and time-course of serum anti-DNA antibody. The differences in the peak levels of the two substrains were highly significant, with lpr/lpr mice demonstrating a much greater anti-DNA antibody response than +/+ mice. In lpr/lpr mice tested for both autoantibody systems, serum anti-DNA and anti-Sm antibodies showed distinct time-courses. These studies indicate that anti-DNA and anti-Sm antibodies are expressed independently in MRL mice, with the expression of anti-DNA, but not anti-Sm antibody markedly influenced by the presence of the 1pr gene. A fundamental difference in the mechanisms involved in the generation of anti-DNA and anti-Sm antibodies is suggested by the quantitative pattern of the two responses.