To determine whether native bovine type XI collagen (BXI) is arthritogenic, five strains of inbred mice were immunized with BXI/CFA. Arthritis was not observed in any of these strains, though it was prevalent in DBA/1 and B10.RIII controls immunized with bovine type II collagen (BII). Antisera from BXI-immunized mice reacted with mouse type XI collagen (MsXI), weakly with the alpha-chains of BXI, and minimally with mouse type II collagen (MsII). However, antisera to BII reacted with MsII and MsXI, indicating antibodies to conformation-independent epitopes shared by alpha 1(II) and alpha 3(XI). Mice immunized with BXI containing a small amount of BII developed arthritis much like those immunized with BII; sera from these mice reacted with MsXI and MsII. Delayed-type hypersensitivity responses differed from IgG responses, i.e., BXI elicited responses to alpha 1(XI), alpha 2(XI), alpha 3(XI), and alpha 1(II); BII, to alpha 3(XI) and alpha 1(II) exclusively. To determine whether alpha 1(XI), alpha 2(XI), alpha 3(XI), and alpha 1(II) are arthritogenic, DBA/1J mice were immunized with each alpha-chain. Arthritis was seen in mice injected with alpha 3(XI) or alpha 1(II). Sera to both alpha-chains reacted similarly with MsII and peptide fragment alpha 1(II)-CB11. Epitope mapping using polyclonal and mAb to type II collagen revealed that all polyclonal and 11 of 14 mAb reacted with alpha 3(XI) and alpha 1(II), whereas three mAb reacted only with alpha 1(II). In conclusion, BXI is immunogenic but not arthritogenic in five strains of mice, whereas alpha 3(XI) and alpha 1(II) are arthritogenic and immunogenic in DBA/1 mice and share greater than or equal to 11 epitopes recognized by autoantibody.