Monoclonal antibodies against human α-fetoprotein (AFP) were obtained by the hybridoma technique and studied with regard to their reactivities with the human hepatoma cell lines PLC/PRF/5 and KN, and a spontaneously immortalized cell line derived from fetal liver, NuE, all of which synthesize AFP. One of the monoclonal antibodies, 19F12 (IgG2b) became bound to free AFP which was used as the immunogen with an affinity constant of 3.4 × 108 m-1. This value was not much higher than those of two other antibodies, 19B1 (IgG1) and 9D12 (IgG2b). However, only antibody 19F12 showed definite reactivity with AFP-producing cells in analysis using flow cytometry. Immunofluorescence microscopy showed that antibody 19F12 detected AFP over the surface of NuE and PLC/PRF/5 cells with a uniform distribution, whereas definite reactivities of antibodies 19B1 and 9D12 to these cells were not detected. These antibodies did not show the specific binding to a non-AFP-producing human lung cancer cell line, PC-9, or to human peripheral blood lymphocytes. The binding ability of 19F12 to hepatoma cells was shown in both viable and fixed cells. Addition of free AFP inhibited the binding of antibody 19F12 to PLC/PRF/5 cells in a concentration-dependent manner. The specific reactivity of 19F12 to human AFP was also confirmed by immunostaining of a tissue section of human cancer proved to be AFP positive with AFP-specific antisera. In two-dimensional polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis of the antigen (from membrane fraction of PLC/PRF/5 cells)-antibody (19F12) complex, spots derived from the antibody and a spot (pI 4.7, Mr 65,000) corresponding in pI and molecular weight to AFP were detected. Western blot analysis showed that material in the membrane fraction of PLC/PRF/5 cells recognized by antibody 19F12 has the same molecular weight as human AFP derived from placenta. In a study of reactivities to PLC/PRF/5 cells treated with various enzymes, the reactivity of this antibody decreased when cells were treated with protease and trypsin and increased when lipase was used. The binding of 19F12 to AFP was not inhibited by concanavalin A. The antibody 19F12 appeared to recognize an epitope that is considered to be part of the peptide area of AFP. These results indicate that the reactivity, the amount of bound antibodies, and the distribution of monoclonal antibodies on antigen-producing cells vary, respectively, even though these antibodies were produced using the same antigen as an immunogen. Monoclonal antibody 19F12 binds to the epitope of AFP present on the membrane surface of hepatoma cells with a wide and uniform distribution. This antibody may therefore be a suitable one for immunotoxin therapy or imaging of AFP-producing cancer cells.