Cross-reactive anti-DNA antibody idiotypes have been identified on tissue-bound immunoglobulins from skin biopsies of patients with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) and discoid lupus erythematosus (DLE). Four polyclonal and two monoclonal anti-idiotypic reagents were used to screen biopsies from 24 patients with SLE, 23 patients with DLE, and 15 other patients with IgM-positive skin biopsies. Up to 46% of the SLE patients and 30% of the DLE patients were found to share idiotypes present on immunoglobulins deposited at the dermal-epidermal junction. Inhibition studies in four patients indicated that the idiotypes were on anti-DNA antibodies. In contrast, none of the anti-idiotypic antibodies bound to any of the control biopsies. These findings imply that some tissue-bound autoantibodies are derived from related families of high-frequency germ-line genes that are expressed in both SLE and DLE.