We studied the patterns of in vitro IgM RF production by peripheral blood mononuclear leukocytes (MNL) in first- and second-degree relatives and non-blood relatives of 14 RA patients. In all these included 25 individuals with RA (14 probands, 11 other affected members), 88 non-affected first- and second-degree relatives and 15 non-affected non-blood relatives. In vitro production of IgM RF and IgM by MNL from RA patients was similar to what we and others have previously described. Spontaneous production of IgM RF was demonstrated by MNL from some RA patients and the ratio of IgM RF to total IgM was higher for patients than controls. The non-blood relatives failed to demonstrate spontaneous in vitro IgM RF production. In contrast, MNL from approximately 16% of non-affected blood relatives spontaneously produced IgM RF. Spontaneous IgM RF production in this group did not correlate with HLA-DR3 or HLA-DR4 and was found in Caucasoids, American blacks, simplex (one affected individual), and multiplex (more than one affected individual) families. Linkage analysis using either a recessive or dominant model of inheritance failed to detect linkage among affected and non-affected family members. © 1987 Springer-Verlag.