Complete congenital heart block is associated with the presence of maternal autoantibodies to small ribosomal nucleoproteins (such as anti-Ro) which cross the placenta and may be deposited at the site of cardiac damage. Ten such cases of congenital heart block, their mothers, and their siblings were studied. The seropositive mother of one case had a similar conduction defect (bifascicular block) to that in her affected child. None of the siblings examined had cardiac lesions. Six mothers had Ro or La antibody five to 17 years after the birth of the affected child. Four mothers examined 11-32 years after the birth of an affected child were seronegative. Three of these mothers had evidence of a connective tissue disorder. This evidence is consistent with a hypothesis that a maternal viral infection, associated with autoantibody production, leads to virus crossing the placenta, damaging the fetal heart, and eliciting local deposition of maternal antibody.