Spontaneous shift in Id expression of polyclonal anti-DNA antibodies in a patient, BS, with SLE was investigated. BS had active lupus nephritis in 1982 and developed central nervous system lupus in 1986 without evidence of active nephritis. Two rabbit polyclonal anti-Id (BS-82 and BS-86 R-anti-Id) were raised against affinity-purified anti-DNA antibodies prepared from 1982 serum (BS-82) and 1986 serum (BS-86), respectively. In addition, murine monoclonal anti-Id was prepared against BS-82 Id. Direct binding assays showed that all three anti-Id had preferential binding to the immunizing anti-DNA antibodies (the homologous Id) and poor binding to anti-DNA antibodies prepared from the different dated sample of BS. This was confirmed by inhibition assays of binding of anti-Id to the homologous Id by various Id. Moreover, inhibition assays of binding of various Id to DNA by the R-anti-Id showed that the R-anti-Id was the most effective inhibitor for the homologous Id. Testing for Id expression in serial (1982 to 1986) serum samples of BS with the R-anti-Id as probes showed that BS-82 Id declined and was undetectable after October, 1984, whereas BS-86 Id was first detectable in July, 1985, and increased by June, 1986. These results clearly demonstrate spontaneous shifts in Id expression of human anti-DNA antibodies. The phenomenon of Id shift should be considered in any future strategy for the diagnosis and therapy of human autoimmune disease by anti-Id.