Sera from 7 patients with pemphigus vulgaris and both mouse and rabbit antisera against bovine epidermal desmosomes contained antibodies that bound to cell surface components of the spinous layer of bovine epidermis. The antidesmosomal sera showed significant binding to purified desmosomal proteins in an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA). Two of 7 pemphigus sera bound to desmosomal protein-coated microtiter plates at low dilution titers. Two of 6 normal human sera also bound to desmosomal protein-coated microtiter plates at titers comparable to those of the pemphigus sera. Indirect immunofluorescent labeling of frozen sections of monkey esophagus revealed striking differences in the distribution of pemphigus antigens and desmosomal constituents. Pemphigus antisera produced rather uniform fluorescence around the borders of spinous cells of the esophageal epithelium, while anti-desmosomal antibodies bound in a punctate pattern. Anti-desmosomal antibodies labeled cells of the basal layer in a strongly punctate pattern. Only 1 pemphigus serum appreciably labeled basal cells. Two of 3 anti-desmosomal antisera bound avidly in the upper differentiating layers of the epithelium. Pemphigus antibodies did not. Pemphigus sera that reacted with desmosomal proteins in ELISA were absorbed by affinity chromatography on immobilized desmosomal proteins. This treatment did not alter the immunofluorescent labeling patterns produced by these sera. From these results we conclude that the pemphigus autoantibodies studied here bind to epithelial cell surface antigens which are distinguishable from the structural components of desmosomes.