In the diagnosis of autoimmune hepatitis type I (AIH-I), the routine assay of indirect immunofluorescence (IFL), used for the detection of anti-smooth muscle antibodies (ASMAs), has a low predictive value. On the other hand, the enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA), which detects anti-cytoskeleton antibodies (ACTAs), presents contradictory results concerning their specific antigenic target. In this study, we first looked for the immunological properties (isotypes and antigenic targets) of autoantibodies in AIH-I and two other control liver diseases: primary biliary cirrhosis (PBC) and viral hepatitis (VH), using ELISA based on cytoskeleton proteins: F-actin, G-actin, myosin, tropomyosin, troponin, desmin, vimentin, keratin, and an extract of HEp-2 carcinoma cells. We also compared the diagnostic value of IFL and ELISA. In contrast to previous studies, we found that actin was not specific for AIH-I. No autoantigen and no antibody class or subclass discriminated AIH-I from the control diseases. IFL is more suitable for AIH-I diagnosis, as 97% of AIH-I sera but only 22% of PBC sera were ASMA-positive. Additionally, 96% of ASMA-positive, and all ASMA-negative sera from all three liver diseases were ACTA-positive. ASMA were mainly IgG, while >50% of ACTA also contained IgA and IgM. These data suggest that ACTAs recognize additional epitopes as compared to ASMAs, and they frequently occur in all liver diseases. © 2002 Wiley-Liss, Inc.