Anti-DNA Abs commonly found in patients with systemic lupus erythematosus are thought to play an important pathogenic role in lupus nephritis. Anti-DNA Abs may contribute to renal disease by cross-reactivity with renal Ags, the identity of which remain elusive. To identify a target Ag for pathogenic anti-DNA Abs, we performed Western blotting and immunoprecipitations of mesangial cell lysates from the lupus-prone MRL-lpr/lpr mouse and a nonautoimmune BALB/c mouse with the pathogenic anti-DNA Ab R4A. We found that R4A (but not a nonpathogenic Ab mutant of R4A) binds to and immunoprecipitates a 100-kDa protein expressed on the cell surface and in lysates of MRL- lpr/lpr mesangial cells. DNase treatment of the lysate and of the R4A Ab did not effect binding, indicating that the binding of R4A to the 100-kDa protein was direct and not mediated by an antigenic bridge containing DNA. Binding was greatly diminished in BALB/c lysates, suggesting that Ag expression or availability at the level of the target organ may be a factor in determining susceptibility to lupus nephritis. Following identification of this 100-kDa protein as nonmuscle α-actinin, binding of R4A to α-actinin was confirmed by Western blot, ELISA, inhibition studies, and immunofluorescence. High titers of anti-α-actinin Abs were present in sera and kidney eluates of lupus mice with active nephritis. These results indicate that the nephritogenicity of some anti-DNA Abs may be mediated via cross -reactivity with α-actinin. Furthermore, variations in target Ag display between individuals may underlie differential susceptibility to anti-DNA Ab-induced renal disease.