In autoimmune hyper- or dislipidemia secondary to a monoclonal antilipoprotein gammapathy, immunoglobulin-lipoprotein (Ig-Lp) complexes are found in the circulating blood. In order to determine their possible significance in common types of hyperlipidemia we compared the Ig-Lp content of sera from 98 healthy blood donors and 155 outpatients from a Lipid Clinic, including 91 cases of hypercholesterolemia (55 familial and 36 non-familial), 15 cases of hypertriglyceridemia, 20 cases of mixed hyperlipidemia and 29 miscellaneous cases. Detection of the Ig-Lp was performed by an ELISA technique with polyclonal affinity purified anti-LDL + HDL as capture antibodies and peroxidase-labeled anti-Ig antibodies specific for IgA, IgG, IgM heavy chains as indicators. Two cases of monoclonal gammapathy (one IgA K and one IgG L) with dislipidemia served as positive controls for the test. IgG, IgA and IgM Lp were found in the sera of the blood donors, in very small quantities when compared with the monoclonal gammapathy cases. All three types of Ig-Lp were also found in the different hyperlipidemic populations studied. When blood donors were compared to hyperlipidemic patients, no difference was observed for IgG Lp. A significant increase in IgM Lp was found in patients with familial hypercholesterolemia (P less than 0.01). An increase in IgA Lp was also found in hypercholesterolemia, familial or not (P less than 0.01), and in patients with corneal arcus (P less than 0.0001), ischaemic disease (P less than 0.01), tendon xanthomas (P less than 0.05) or xanthelasma (P less than 0.05). Furthermore, in a group of 18 paired parents from 9 different families, positive interparent correlations were found for IgM Lp (r = 0.78; P = 0.013) and IgG Lp (r = 0.69; P = 0.038). Therefore IgM Lp may be markers for subpopulations of familial hypercholesterolemia, and IgA Lp markers for the risk of atherosclerotic ischemic disease and deposition of lipids in the cornea. It may be (1) that natural clones of autoanti-lipoprotein antibodies are responsible for the minute quantities of Ig-Lp found in normal people; (2) that the marked development of one of these clones is the cause of autoimmune hyper- or dyslipidemia and xanthomatosis associated with monoclonal gammapathy; (3) that the limited development of a clone produces the Ig-Lp particles found in hypercholesterolemic patients; (4) that there are types of Ig-Lp particles (IgA Lp) that may be harmful for tissues independently of hypercholesterolemia.