OBJECTIVE: To determine how the American College of Rheumatology (ACR) criteria for the classification of systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) accrue in a multiethnic cohort of SLE patients. METHODS: SLE patients enrolled in a longitudinal study of outcome were analyzed (LUMINA; Lupus in Minorities: Nature versus nurture) for the manner in which ACR criteria manifestations occurred prior to the accrual of 4 of them. Time at which a criterion was said to be present was determined by review of all previously available medical records and interview. Univariable and multivariable Cox proportional hazard models were examined for the association with time to accrual of 4 ACR criteria; results were reported as hazard ratios. RESULTS: There were 103 Texas Hispanic (of Mexican or Central America ancestry) patients, 55 Puerto Rico Hispanics, 176 African Americans, and 137 Caucasians. The mean +/- SD and median (range) time to accrual of 4 ACR criteria were 29.4 +/- 52.0 months and 9.1 (0-328.7) months; time was shortest for the Texas Hispanics (18.4 +/- 42.8 and 5.0 [0-248] months) and longest for the Caucasians (39.9 +/- 59.3 months and 17.7 [0-324.6] months). Arthritis was the most frequent first criterion (34.5%); it was followed by photosensitivity (18.8%). When 2 criteria occurred from the outset, the most frequent combination was arthritis and antinuclear antibody positivity followed by malar rash and photosensitivity. A Cox-regression multivariable model identified Hispanic ethnicity (from Texas) and HLA-DRB1*0301 as predictors of short time to criteria accrual, whereas older age and married/living together were associated with long time to criteria accrual. CONCLUSION: Significant variability in the evolution of ACR criteria manifestations does occur. Texas Hispanics are more likely to have a rapid evolution of criteria manifestations, but several years may elapse before ACR criteria are accrued.