Autoantibodies from patients with systemic rheumatic diseases were used to map antigenic sites on the 68-kD autoantigen (p68) associated with (U1)RNA-containing small nuclear ribonucleoprotein (snRNP) particles. With truncated recombinant fusion proteins and synthetic peptides, a subset of anti-p68 autoantibodies was found to recognize the amino acid sequence motif Glu-Arg-Lys-Arg-Arg (ERKRR). To investigate the possible involvement of epitopes shared by microbial antigens and host self-components in initiation of autoimmunity (molecular mimicry), a sequence data bank was screened for proteins containing an amino acid motif identical or related to ERKRR. The identical motif was found on the M1 matrix protein of influenza B viruses, and affinity-purified human anti-ERKRR autoantibodies recognized this epitope also in the viral amino acid sequence context. The common epitope recognized by human autoantibodies suggests that influenza B virus infection may play a role in initiation of the anti-p68 and anti-(U1)RNP autoimmune response.