Monoclonal IgM autoantibodies have previously been generated from a patient with lepromatous leprosy. Polyclonal anti-idiotypes raised against two of these monoclonal antibodies (8E7 and TH9) were used in an immunoassay to detect the presence of idiotype in human serum. The anti-idiotypes recognize different but overlapping sets of idiotypic determinants, some of which are present on antibodies which bind to Mycobacterium leprae. Sera were tested from 16 individuals with leprosy, 45 with systemic lupus erythematosus, 20 with
Lyme disease, and 80 healthy subjects. Positive sera were detected in all groups (seven, two, three, and four, respectively). In most cases the serum bound to both anti-idiotypes, the idiotype being present in the IgM and/or IgG fraction. Levels of the two idiotypes varied independently of total serum IgG concentration and, in serial samples from one patient, independently of each other. The results indicate that 8E7 and TH9 may be representative of serum antibodies which are commonly expressed in leprosy, but may also be expressed in other diseases and in health; and they suggest that such serum antibodies are encoded by a widely shared set of variable region genes.