The primary structures of the N-linked oligosaccharides from normal human serum IgA1 were determined by a combination of sequential exoglycosidase digestion, Bio-Gel P-4 chromatography, anion-exchange chromatography and one-dimensional n.m.r. spectroscopy. Three major N-linked disialylated biantennary-complex-type structures were found (55%). The remaining N-linked oligosaccharides consisted of at least nine further structures, some of which (7%) were of the triantennary type and included disialylated triantennary oligosaccharides with outer-arm fucose substitution [Fuc alpha 1-3(4)]. Compared with IgG, the N-glycan structures on IgA are more completely processed: the outer arms have a higher proportion of galactose and sialic acid, and only trace levels of incompletely galactosylated oligosaccharides, commonly found on IgG, were detected. Analysis of the sialylated O-glycans revealed that 64% were [NeuAc2 alpha 3(6)]2Gal beta 3GalNAc and 9% were [NeuAc2 alpha 3(6)]-Gal beta 4GlcNAc beta 6[NeuAc2 alpha 3(6)Gal beta 3]GalNAc, and 27% were monosialylated. The N-linked glycosylation of both serum IgA1 and IgG isolated from a group of six normal individuals was compared with that from ten patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). In contrast with the hypogalactosylation found in IgG from diseased sera, there was no evidence of an equivalent decrease in the galactosylation of the IgA1 oligosaccharides. In addition, the N-glycosylation of IgA1 was remarkably consistent within the group of normal individuals. These data suggest that incomplete galactosylation of N-linked glycans and its augmentation in RA does not extend to IgA1 and that the RA-associated galactosyltransferase deficiency may be restricted to cells producing gamma-chain.