In healthy adults the total daily production of secretory and serum IgA exceeds that of other immunoglobulin classes. Secretory and serum IgA display features of mutual independence: they are represented by molecules with different physiochemical and immunochemical properties and antibody activities and are produced by cells with different organ distributions. Secretory and serum IgA also exhibit different effector functions: interaction of secretory IgA with environmental antigens results in prevention of the penetration of such antigens by a variety of mechanisms. Although the function of polymeric serum IgA antibodies in certain animal species involves elimination of antigenic substances by noninflammatory means, the primary function of serum IgA remains unknown. It is proposed that in humans monomeric serum IgA (which prevents activation of the complement systems, inhibits phagocytosis and antibody-dependent cellular cytotoxicity) may protect endogenous antigens expressed on various cells and tissues by preventing their interaction with humoral and cellular immune mechanisms that may lead to tissue damage. © 1986.