A new method has been developed to determine the specificities of polyclonal rheumatoid factors (naturally occurring antibodies which react with human Fc gamma) (RF) found in sera from patients with rheumatoid arthritis. In this method, monoclonal anti-Rh(D) antibodies of known IgG isotype and allotype are bound to erythrocytes and then act as the target IgG antigen for RF in a direct haemagglutination test. Using two monoclonal anti-D antibodies of the IgG3 isotype and G3m(21) allotype, which were cloned from different donors, we found that a large number of rheumatoid sera reacted with both these G3m(21) proteins. In contrast reactivity of rheumatoid sera with polyclonal anti-D of the G3m(21) allotype in the direct haemagglutination test was rare. A strong correlation was found between reactivities to both G3m(21) monoclonal anti-D antibodies but not with a monoclonal anti-D antibody carrying the alternative allele, namely G3m(5). Haemagglutination inhibition experiments using human paraproteins of known IgG isotype and allotype provided some additional evidence that this method can detect RF with specificity for the G3m(21) allotypic determinant or a related allotypic determinant in polyclonal rheumatoid sera. When each patient's autoantibody response was related to their Gm phenotype, we found that the frequency of reactivity for G3m(21) monoclonal anti-D antibodies was significantly greater in patients negative for G3m(21) than in patients positive for the G3m(21) allotype. IgM preparations from patients' sera were dissociated at acid pH but no 'hidden' antibodies were found. We suggest trans-placental sensitization as one of several possible interpretations of this finding.