All nine SLE (systemic lupus erythematosus) sera with antiribosomal antibody activity targeted the same three ribosomal protein antigens, of molecular masses 38 and 17/19 kD when analyzed by sodium dodecyl sulfate-polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis and Western blotting. One serum reacted with an additional protein of approximately kD. Ribosomal subunit fractionation by composite gel electrophoresis and sucrose density ultracentrifugation showed that these proteins were part of the large subunit. Isoelectric focusing in agarose, and two-dimensional polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis revealed that the antigens had pI between 4.5 and 6.5, but that the 17/19 kD antigens were more acidic than the 38 kD antigen. Similarities in the molecular masses, charges, as well as the presence of highly conserved crossreactive epitopes, failure to bind to carboxymethylcellulose at pH 4.2, and extractability of the 17/19 kD proteins by 400 mM NH4Cl-ethanol at 0 degrees C indicated that these antigens were analogous to the proteins P0 (38 kD) and P1/P2 (17/19 kD) described previously (25, 36). Co-identity was confirmed using reference antibodies and antigen. Although antibodies to these proteins were only found in 5-10% of more than 50 sera screened by radioimmunoassay or Western blotting, the selective production of antibodies to epitopes on three (out of a total of more than 80) ribosomal proteins may provide further clues to autoantibody induction of SLE.