OBJECTIVE: TGPO autoantibodies (aAbs) that bind simultaneously to thyroglobulin (Tg) and thyroperoxidase (TPO) are present in the serum of patients with autoimmune thyroid diseases (AITD) and have been found to differ from monospecific Tg and TPO aAbs. To obtain further insights on the prevalence defined as the rate of occurrence and significance of TGPO aAbs in a large population, we carried out a collaborative study involving 15 European teams. METHODS: Serum samples from 3122 patients with various thyroid and non-thyroid diseases and normal subjects were assayed using a novel TGPO aAb detection kit. This test was designed so that TGPO aAbs are trapped between the Tg-coated solid phase and the soluble TPO labeled with a radioiodinated monoclonal antibody. RESULTS: Only three out of the 220 normal subjects (prevalence of 1.4%) were found to have positive TGPO aAb levels, which were mainly observed in the patients with AITD: the group of patients suffering from Hashimoto's thyroiditis had a TGPO aAb prevalence of 40.5% (n=437 patients), those with Graves' disease, a prevalence of 34.6% (n=645) and those with post-partum thyroiditis, 16.0% (n=243). Among the non-AITD patients with positive TGPO aAb levels, the TGPO aAb prevalence ranged from 20.7% among those with thyroid cancer (n=246) to 0% among those with toxic thyroid nodules (n=47). Among the patients with non-thyroid diseases, the TGPO aAb prevalence ranged from 9.8% in the case of Biermer's pernicious anemia (n=78) to 0% in that of premature ovarian failure (n=44). It is worth noting that the groups showing the highest TGPO aAb prevalence also contained the patients with the highest TGPO aAb titers. Statistical comparisons between the TGPO aAb prevalences in the various groups showed that TGPO aAb could be used as a parameter to distinguish between the groups of Hashimoto's and Graves' patients and between the women with post-partum thyroiditis and the post-partum women with only Tg and/or TPO aAb established during early pregnancy. Unexpectedly, the correlations between TGPO aAbs and Tg and TPO aAbs were found to depend mainly on the assay kit used. CONCLUSION: High TGPO aAb titers are consistently associated with AITD but the reverse was not found to be true. TGPO aAbs are a potentially useful tool, however, for establishing Hashimoto's diagnosis, and would be worth testing in this respect with a view to using them for routine AITD investigations.