The possibility that patients with IgA nephropathy (IgAN) might have abnormal IgA immune responses to immunogens commonly encountered at mucosal surfaces, resulting in the formation of circulating immune complexes (CIC), was examined. Since it is generally held that such increased IgA responses are characterized by detectable aberrancies in handling of IgA-containing CIC, IgAN patients and controls were given a large volume of bovine milk (after dietary deprivation of bovine antigens) and immune complex levels were measured over a period of 12 h. An assay based on binding of CIC containing C3 to solid-phase anti-C3 and subsequent development with isotype-specific antibody revealed no differences in responses of patients and controls with respect to IgG- and IgM-containing CIC. Although IgAN patients tended to have higher levels of IgA-containing CIC, there were no differences in response patterns when IgA CIC levels after ingestion of the milk stimulus were related to baseline levels. Polymorphonuclear leucocytes (PMNC), which bear surface receptors for IgA, were isolated from some subjects at the same times as the samples for CIC levels and examined by two-colour immunfluorescence for the coincident presence of IgA and milk antigens. In contrast to the data obtained in the CIC assays, these experiments revealed the simultaneous presence of IgA and two of three milk proteins in PMNC of IgAN patients but not controls. Follow-up experiments designed to assess more quantitatively the coincidental presence of IgA and milk antigens indicated no significant differences between patients and controls. However, milk proteins seemed to be more commonly associated with IgA in PMNC of IgAN patients, suggesting the presence of non-complement-fixing IgA/antigen CIC after mucosal challenge of some IgAN patients.