BALB/c ByJ mice develop a lupus-like syndrome characterized by anti-nRNP/Sm and Su autoantibodies and immune complex glomerulonephritis after a single i.p. pristane injection. In contrast, mercuric chloride induces anti-fibrillarin Abs only in SJL and other H-2s mice, and not in BALB/c (H-2d) mice. In the present study, the specificities of autoantibodies induced by pristane and HgCl2 were compared in SJL and BALB/c mice to examine whether these strains are "programmed" to make different sets of autoantibodies in response to nonspecific immune stimulation. Unexpectedly, the predominant autoantibodies induced by pristane in SJL mice were neither those characteristic of HgCl2-treated SJL mice nor those associated with pristane-induced disease in BALB/c mice but, rather, anti-ribosomal P, another lupus-related specificity. The autoantibodies were strongly reactive with the C-terminal 22 amino acids of the ribosomal P2 protein, indicating that they exhibited similar fine specificities to anti-P Abs in human SLE and MRL/Ipr mice. Like BALB/c mice, pristane-treated SJL mice developed severe glomerulonephritis characterized by proteinuria, mesangial proliferation, and glomerular immune complex deposits. This is the first evidence that the induction of a lupus-like syndrome by pristane is not restricted to BALB/c mice. The predominance of anti-P Abs in SJL mice contrasts sharply with the predominance of anti-nRNP/Sm and Su, in pristane-treated BALB/c mice, even though the renal lesions were similar in both strains. The data suggest that H-2s does not program mice to produce anti-fibrillarin Abs in response to nonspecific immune stimulation, arguing that autoantibody induction by pristane involves Ag-specific mechanisms.