Peripheral blood mononuclear cell (PBMC) cultures were established from patients with antibody to human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Asymptomatically infected patients [5 of 19] had significant lymphocyte transformation responses induced in culture by a purified, recombinant envelope glycoprotein (rgp120) from the virus. A few (4 of 55) subjects with AIDS related complex (ARC) and no subjects with AIDS (0 of 29) had proliferative responses to this protein. These responses correlated directly with circulating levels of helper/inducer lymphocytes (p less than .01) and indirectly with virus antigen in blood (p = .04). Also, these responses occurred significantly less frequently than responses to herpes simplex virus (HSV) or cytomegalovirus (CMV) antigens in seropositive ARC patients (p less than .005). These data indicate that the frequency of immune cellular responses to rgp120 decline in association with disease progression, and become undetectable in frank AIDS. As rgp120-induced proliferation was not observed in cells from 15 seronegative immunocompetent subjects, this response appears immune specific. Immune T-lymphocyte-mediated responses to this HIV envelope glycoprotein may allow the prediction of future clinical events and may be useful in monitoring immune-enhancing therapy in patients with ARC and AIDS.