Estimation of the concentration of a specific protein in a biological sample often is obtained by analysis of immunoblots. We used this technique to estimate the concentration of three proteins present in homogenates of brain: glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP), myelin basic protein (MBP), and synapsin I. Homogenates prepared from rat brains known to contain more than 6-fold increases in GFAP, based on a GFAP enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA), showed only small relative increases in this protein when the same samples were subjected to immunoblot analysis with polyclonal or monoclonal anti-GFAP; quantification was based on PhosphorImager analysis of [(125)I] protein A bound to the antibodies. Estimates of GFAP in the GFAP-enriched samples approached the expected 6-fold increase when the total protein load per gel lane was reduced from 30 to 1 microgram. Pure GFAP run as standard was not affected by 10-fold increases in protein load, but spiking brain homogenates with pure GFAP "quenched" the values obtained for the standard run alone. Examination of the quenching potential of pure brain tubulin, a protein that nearly comigrates with GFAP on SDS gels, showed that it may be one component of brain homogenates that contributes to masking of immunodetection of GFAP. The effect of total brain homogenate proteins on the signal obtained for a specific protein was not limited to GFAP; similar effects were observed for MBP and synapsin I. The data indicate that estimates of the concentration of a specific protein, whether as a function of its relative amount in a given protein mixture or its relative amount in one mixture compared to another, are influenced by other homogenate proteins present in the mixture.