The basis for rheumatoid factor (RF) production in autoimmune or lymphoproliferative diseases cannot be understood without defining the molecular factors that dictate RF structure and specificity. Recently three different mAb (6B6.6, 17.109, and G6) have been developed that define cross-reactive idiotypes (CRI) on intact L or H chains of human monoclonal RF cryoglobulins. However, the true incidence of these CRI among RF and their relationship to each other have not been delineated. In the present experiments, a panel of 163 randomly selected IgM paraproteins was evaluated for the expression of the two κ L chain CRI, 6B6.6 and 17.109, and the H chain CRI, G6. Among the paraproteins with κ L chains, 14% expressed the 17.109 CRI, and 9% expressed the 6B6.6 CRI. Both ELISA and Western immunoblotting experiments showed that the two L chain CRI were mutually exclusive. Anti-IgG activity was documented in 22 of the IgM-κ paraproteins, among which mAb 6B6.6 reacted with 7 (32%) and mAb 17.109 with 6 (27%). Both CRI were expressed exclusively by L chains within the κIII variable gene subgroup. Although 17.109 CRI+ paraproteins had κIIIb L chains, none of the 6B6.6 CRI+ paraproteins possessed L chains with this κ sub-subgroup specific Ag. The G6 CRI was found predominantly among RF paraproteins and was frequently yet not exclusively associated with the 17.109 CRI+ L chains. Additional experiments were performed on a panel of normal adult human sera and documented the presence of 6B6.6 and 17.109 CRI on a small percentage (0.1 to 2.0%) of IgM from most individuals. These data indicate that 1) the mAb 6B6.6 and 17.109 identify two major and distinct CRI among IgM-RF paraproteins, 2) both CRI are associated exclusively with κIII L chains, 3) κIIIb and κIII non-b L chains are equally prevalent among IgM-RF, 4) the G6 H chain CRI is frequently associated with 17.109 CRI+ L chains, but not with 6B6.6 CRI+ L chains, and 5) although the ability to make 6B6.6 and 17.109 CRI+ κ L chains is common in humans, these CRI are present in low concentrations in normal IgM.