The BP180 antigen, a component of the epidermal anchoring complex, has been identified as one of the major antigenic targets of autoantibodies associated with the blistering skin disease, bullous pemphigoid. Our research group has recently demonstrated that reactivity of bullous pemphigoid autoantibodies to the BP180 ectodomain is almost entirely restricted to a set of four antigenic sites clustered within the membrane-proximal noncollagenous stretch (NC16A). Using a passive transfer mouse model, antibodies to the corresponding noncollagenous region of murine BP180 were shown to trigger an inflammatory subepidermal blistering disease that closely mimics bullous pemphigoid. We now report the development of an enzyme-linked immunoabsorbent assay system that is extremely sensitive in detecting disease-specific autoantibodies in the sera of bullous pemphigoid patients. The target antigen in this assay is a recombinant form of the BP180 NC16A domain that contains all four of the well-defined bullous pemphigoid-associated antigenic sites. Of 50 randomly selected bullous pemphigoid sera tested, 47 (94%) were positive in this assay, whereas no specific reactivity was detected in any of the 107 controls. Interestingly, all three of the bullous pemphigoid sera that were negative in this assay had been obtained from patients who were already undergoing treatment. The NC16A enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay is more sensitive than any of the standard techniques for detecting circulating bullous pemphigoid autoantibodies, including other enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays, immunoblotting, and indirect immunofluorescence. Finally, the NC16A enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay provides immunologic information that cannot be obtained from direct immunofluorescence studies of skin biopsies, and that may well be relevant in the diagnosis and treatment of bullous pemphigoid.