Targeted disruption of the transforming growth factor-beta 1 (TGF-beta 1) gene in mice results in the development of a massive multifocal inflammatory disease in many tissues. Because no detectable pathogen was identified, we examined whether autoimmune mechanisms played a role in initiating or maintaining the inflammatory disease. The serum of TGF- beta 1 knockout mice contained elevated titers of antibodies to nuclear antigens (ssDNA, dsDNA, Sm, and RNP) as well as reactivity against the 16/6 idiotype (16/6 Id). In addition, Ig deposits were detected in renal glomeruli of TGF- beta 1 knockout mice. Transplantation of TGF- beta 1 knockout hematopoietic cells into normal irradiated recipients resulted in a similar profile of autoantibody production as well as in the induction of inflammatory lesions. Our results describe autoimmune activity that ensues when the TGF-beta 1 cytokine is absent.