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Antibodies against intact type II collagen (CII) are a feature of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) but have limited diagnostic value. Here we assess whether either of the two major cyanogen bromide fragments of CII, namely CB10 or CB11, are more sensitive substrates for the detection of antibodies in RA. Cleavage of bovine CII with cyanogen bromide yielded CB10 and CB11; these were purified by column chromatography for use in an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay. Serum antibodies were measured in patients with RA, psoriatic arthritis (PsA), osteoarthritis (OA) and blood donors. Results were compared with those using intact CII. Antibodies against CB10 were found in as many as 88% of 96 patients with long-standing RA, but only 12% of 33 patients with PsA, 6% of 34 patients with OA and 3% of 93 control sera. Lower frequencies for these diseases were obtained on testing for antibodies against CB11: 50%, 6%, 21% and 2%, respectively. The sensitivity of detection in RA of antibodies against CB10 compared with antibodies against intact CII (88% versus 24%) was not at the expense of specificity, which remained high at 94%. The much higher frequency of antibodies against CB10 in RA than in other rheumatic diseases or control sera indicates that CB10 is clearly a more sensitive substrate than the intact collagen molecule and, combined with other assays (rheumatoid factor, anti-cyclic citrullinated peptide [anti-CCP]), might comprise a panel with a highly reliable predictive value. Moreover, our findings should encourage renewed interest in the role of collagen autoimmunity in the pathogenesis of RA.