We have developed an ELISA to measure murine autoantibodies to the collagenous region (CLR) of Clq, using the whole human Clq molecule as the solid-phase ligand, in the presence of 1 M NaCl. The assay was validated by testing positive sera from 20 mice using purified mouse Clq, and from 10 mice using purified human Clq-CLR, as the solid-phase ligands. There were highly significant correlations between results obtained with human Clq(whole molecule) and: (i) mouse Clq (r(Sp) = 0.73, P < 0.001), and (ii) human Clq-CLR alone (r(Sp) = 0.86, P = 0.001). Antibodies to Clq were measured in 53 MRL/lpr, 17 BXSB and 25 NZB/W lupus-prone mice. Median (range) anti-Clq (CLR) antibody levels in MRL/lpr, BXSB, and NZB/W autoimmune mice aged 3 months were 22 (16-66), 21 (17-39) and 19 (15-27) EU, respectively. The median anti-Clq antibody level in MRL/lpr mice aged 5 months was 76 (35-142) EU, significantly higher than that at 3 months (U = 558, P < 0.0005). Median anti-Clq antibody level in NZB/W mice at 8 months was 37 (13-74) EU and in BXSB mice at 11 months was 62 (31-231) EU, significantly higher than corresponding values at 3 months (U = 326, and U = 4, P < 0.001, respectively). This is the first demonstration of anti-Clq (CLR) antibodies in NZB/W and BXSB mice. The pathologic significance and the potential utility of these antibodies for monitoring disease in lupus-prone mice are under evaluation.