The results reported here show that the two meningococcal transferrin-binding proteins (TBP1 and TBP2) generate different immune responses in different host species and that there is variation in response dependent on the method of antigen preparation and possibly the route of administration. Mice immunized with either whole cells of Neisseria meningitidis SD (B:15:P1.16) or the isolated TBP1-TBP2 complex from the same strain produced antisera which, when tested against a representative panel of meningococcal isolates by Western blotting (immunoblotting), recognized some but not all heterologous TBP2 molecules. In contrast, rabbit antisera raised to the same preparations were cross-reactive with almost all the TBP2 molecules. The immune response to TBP1 was also host species dependent. Western blot analysis with denatured TBP1 failed to detect antibodies in antisera raised in mice to whole cells or in a rabbit to the TBP1-TBP2 complex but detected broadly cross-reactive antibodies in mouse anti-TBP1-TBP2 complex sera and strain-specific antibodies in rabbit anti-whole-cell serum. Human convalescent-phase sera obtained from five patients infected with meningococci of different serogroups and serotypes contained fully cross-reactive antibodies to TBP2 but no anti-TBP1 antibodies, when examined on Western blots. However, on dot immunoblots, the same patients' sera, as well as the mouse anti-whole cell and the rabbit anti-TBP1-TBP2 complex sera, reacted with purified biologically active TBP1 of strain SD. This indicates that native TBP1, a protein which loses its biological and some of its immunological activities when denatured, is immunogenic and that humans generate cross-reactive antibodies to native epitopes. These observations have important implications for assessing the vaccine potential of TBPs and other meningococcal antigens. Conclusions regarding the usefulness of TBPs as candidate components of meningococcal serogroup B vaccines based on results from certain animal species such as mice, or on methods such as Western blotting, may have little bearing on the situation in humans and may lead to some potentially useful antigens being disregarded.