Antibody affinity affects the handling and behaviour of immune complexes, and experimental studies have shown that animals which produce predominantly low-affinity antibody are prone to immune complex deposition resulting in glomerulonephritis. In order to investigate the potential role of antibody affinity in the pathogenesis of IgA nephropathy, affinity of both IgA and IgG antibody isotypes during secondary response to systemic immunization with tetanus toxoid was studied in 20 patients with IgA nephropathy. Patients with IgA nephropathy produced IgA antibodies of significantly lower affinity than controls (P < 0.001), whereas IgG antibody affinities were similar. Contrasting with controls, patients' IgA antibody affinity was inversely related to antibody concentration, with higher responders producing large amounts of low-affinity antibody. IgG antibody affinity increased with time, and maturation of IgG antibody affinity was similar in both controls and patients. IgA affinity in controls decreased with time, and this lack of IgA affinity maturation may explain the relative unimportance of IgA in normal systemic immunity. This temporal decrease in IgA affinity was not observed in patients with IgA nephropathy. The production of low-affinity IgA in IgA nephropathy may provide an explanation for the predominant deposition of IgA in this disease.