The strategy of assigning a surrogate phenotype, defined as the presence of antinuclear and/or antismooth muscle antibodies to disease-free first degree relatives of index cases was used to search for a postulated disease susceptibility gene in autoimmune chronic active hepatitis. In addition to determining circulating autoantibody status, 10 patients, 51 first-degree relatives and 6 spouses of index chronic active hepatitis patients, each ascertained by the single patient, were genotyped for HLA (A, B and DR loci) and immunoglobulin allotype (Glm, G2m, G3m and A2m loci) haplotypes. Among the 10 chronic active hepatitis patients, 6 had HLA haplotypes B8 and DR3, and 3 of these patients had, in addition, the immunoglobulin allotype haplotype Gm a, x;g. Circulating autoantibodies defining the surrogate phenotype was found in 39% of the first-degree relatives. However, segregation analysis offered no support for either single autosomal dominant or recessive inheritance for the autoantibody-positive phenotype. Linkage between the postulated disease susceptibility locus and either the HLA (Chromosome 6) or immunoglobulin (Chromosome 14) locus was excluded by several analyses. Furthermore, logistic regression indicated that neither immunogenetic marker was statistically associated with autoantibody positively in these families. Therefore, despite the occurrence of autoantibody positivity in first-degree relatives of autoimmune chronic active hepatitis patients, we found no evidence that this trait has a simple genetic basis, or that it is an alternative manifestation of a postulated disease susceptibility gene for chronic active hepatitis.