In the present study, the role of antiperipheral nerve myelin antibody (anti-PNM Ab) in demyelination by generating the terminal attack complex (C5b-9) of complement was explored in patients with Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) and other demyelinating neuropathies. The presence in serum of SC5b-9, an inactive C5b-9 containing S protein, was assessed quantitatively by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay using an antibody (Ab) to neoantigens expressed on C9 when complexed with C5b-8 or after tubular polymerization. SC5b-9 was detected in all 19 GBS, four patients with paraprotein-associated neuropathy and five of six patients with chronic recurrent polyneuritis. No SC5b-9 was detected in 10 normal controls. Kinetic studies from six GBS patients showed the highest values of SC5b-9 on the 3rd to 5th d of admission; in contrast, the anti-PNM Ab were highest on the day of admission. Anti-PNM Ab fell rapidly to very low levels by the 15th to 20th d. SC5b-9 declined with similar kinetics to undetectable levels by the 30th d. Levels of Ab and SC5b-9 did not quantitatively correlate with soluble immune complexes in these patients' serum. Membrane-bound C5b-9 was also detected by immunohistochemistry in the peripheral nerves from a GBS patient. These results, which show a relationship between levels of complement-fixing anti-PNM Ab and the tissue-damaging C5b-9 complex, suggest that peripheral nerve myelin may serve as the target for Ab-mediated complement attack.