Antibodies reactive with left-handed Z-DNA arise spontaneously in the sera of patients with SLE and rheumatoid arthritis and in autoimmune MRL mice. However, the precise specificity of these autoantibodies has not been established. In this report, we have characterized four monoclonal anti-Z-DNA antibodies from unimmunized MRL/Mp-lpr/lpr mice that do not cross-react with B-DNA and can discriminate between different types of left-handed helices. Two of the monoclonal antibodies (Za and Zi) behaved similarly in that they bound to two forms of Z-DNA (Br-poly(dG-dC)·poly(dG-dC) and AAF-poly(dG-dC)·poly(dG-dC)) but not to two other Z-form DNA (poly(dG-5BrdC)·poly(dG-5BrdC) or poly(dG-5-MedC)·poly(dG-5MedC)). Neither antibody (Za or Zi) bound significantly to B-DNA or to denatured DNA. A third antibody (Ze) exhibited similar binding characteristics for the Z-DNA preparations, but also recognized denatured DNA. In contrast, a fourth antibody (3-7.3) bound preferentially to poly(dG-5BrdC)·poly(dG-5BrdC) in Z conformation. These results provide the first evidence for anti-Z-DNA autoantibodies in autoimmune mice that do not cross-react with native or denatured DNA and indicate that these antibodies exhibit considerable heterogeneity in their fine binding specificity.