A series of synthetic peptides corresponding to segments of HIV encoded proteins were selected using criteria described by Welling et al. [(1985) FEBS Lett. 188, 215]. Synthetic peptide analogs to gp120 (2-13), (55-65), gp41 (582-596) (659-670) and tatIII (71-83) were recognized by 41-67% of sera or plasma from individuals known to be infected with HIV on the basis of virus isolation or Western blot screening. The peptide which reacted with most sera or plasma was gp41 (582-596), a conserved region in the transmembrane glycoprotein. An extended peptide analog, gp41 (579-599), tested against the same samples showed almost 100% reactivity, confirming independent studies identifying a highly immunodominant region of gp41. There was an unexpected high prevalence of antibodies (25%) to the tatIII peptide.