The humoral immune response, especially IgG and IgA, is considered to be protective in the pathogenesis of periodontal disease, but the precise mechanisms are still unknown. Immunoglobulins arriving at the periodontal lesion are from both systemic and local tissue sources. In order to understand better the local immunoglobulin production, we examined biopsy tissue from periodontitis lesions for the expression of IgM, IgG, IgA, IgE and in addition the IgG and IgA subclasses and J-chain by in situ hybridization. Tissues examined were superficial inflamed gingiva and the deeper granulation tissue from periodontal sites. These data confirm that IgM, and IgG and IgA subclass proteins and J-chain can be locally produced in the periodontitis tissues. IgG1 mRNA-expressing cells were predominant in the granulation tissues and in the gingiva, constituting approx. 65% of the total IgG-expressing plasma cells. There was a significantly increased proportion of IgA-expressing plasma cells in the gingiva compared with the granulation tissue (P < 0.01). Most of the IgA-expressing plasma cells were IgA1, but a greater proportion expressed IgA2 mRNA and J-chain mRNA in the gingival tissues (30.5% and 7.5%, respectively) than in the periodontal granulation tissues (19% and 0–4%, respectively). The J-chain or dimeric IgA2-expressing plasma cells were located adjacent to the epithelial cells, suggesting that this tissue demonstrates features consistent with a mucosal immune response. Furthermore, we were able to detect the secretory component in gingival and junctional epithelial cells, demonstrating that the periodontal epithelium shares features with mucosal epithelium. In contrast, deeper tissues had more plasma cells that expressed IgM, and less expressing IgA, a response which appears more akin to the systemic immune response. In conclusion, this study suggests that immune mechanisms involved in the pathogenesis of periodontitis may involve features of both the mucosal and systemic immune systems, dependent on tissue location.