The major internal structural protein of human T-cell lymphotropic virus type III (HTLV-III), a virus etiologically implicated in acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), was purified to homogeneity. This 24,000-molecular-weight protein (p24) was shown to lack immunologic cross-reacting antigenic determinants shared by other known retroviruses, including HTLV-I and HTLV-II, with the exception of equine infectious anemia virus (EIAV). A broadly reactive competition immunoassay was developed in which antiserum to EIAV was used to precipitate 125I-labeled HTLV-III p24. Although the major structural proteins of HTLV-III and EIAV competed in this assay, other type B, C, and D retroviral proteins lacked detectable reactivity. Thus, HTLV-III is more related to EIAV than to any other retroviruses. That the HTLV-III isolate is very distinct from HTLV-I and HTLV-II was further confirmed by the amino acid compositions of the major internal antigens of all three isolates. Moreover, comparison of the amino-terminal amino acid sequence of HTLV-III p24 with analogous sequences for HTLV-I and HTLV-II p24 showed that these proteins do not share significant sequence homology. In an attempt to evaluate immune response in individuals exposed to HTLV-III, sera from AIDS and lymphadenopathy syndrome patients as well as from clinically normal blood donor controls were tested for antibodies to HTLV-III p24. The results showed that sera from 93% of lymphadenopathy syndrome patients and 73% of AIDS patients exhibited high-titered antibodies to HTLV-III p24. In contrast, none of the normal control sera showed detectable reactivity to HTLV-III p24.