Antibodies specific for dsDNA appear to have different genetic origins and pathogenic consequences, compared with histone/dsDNA-specific antibodies, in a recently described murine model. The purpose of this study was to examine if this is also true in human lupus. Sera from 40 SLE families (comprising 40 probands and 153 first-degree relatives), and 45 normal adult controls were assayed for the levels of anti-dsDNA, anti-H1/dsDNA, anti-H2A/H2B/dsDNA, and anti-H3/H4/dsDNA autoantibodies by ELISA. Both the probands and the first-degree relatives exhibited significantly increased levels of antinuclear antibodies (ANA) targeting the different subnucleosomal epitopes. Importantly, probands with anti-dsDNA antibodies had a significantly higher incidence of renal disease compared with those with just anti-H2A/H2B/dsDNA antibodies, in resonance with murine studies. The frequency of anti-dsDNA and anti-H2A/H2B/DNA ANA among the first-degree relatives was 11·8% and 18·3%, respectively. Surprisingly, whereas probands with anti-dsDNA ANA had families with several seropositive members, first-degree relatives of patients with anti-H2A/H2B/DNA ANA (but not anti-dsDNA ANA) were uniformly ANA-free. These findings suggest that anti-dsDNA ANA in lupus may not only have worse disease associations, they may also have very different genetic origins, compared with anti-H2A/H2B/DNA (or anti-nucleosome) ANA.