Endocrine dysfunctions have previously been reported in human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection. In this study we evaluated the relation of immunological parameters, virus load, clinical stage, and wasting to several parameters of the insulin-like growth factor (IGF) system in 76 patients with HIV infection, of whom 37 had developed acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS). A subgroup of 26 untreated patients was followed during longitudinal testing, while the effects of antiretroviral therapy were evaluated in 34 patients (nucleoside analogs in 9, nucleoside analogs in combination with protease inhibitors in 25). Twenty healthy sex- and age-matched controls were analyzed for comparison. IGF-II was decreased (P = 0.03) and IGF-binding protein-2 (IGFBP-2) and IGFBP-3 protease activity were increased (P < 0.001) in AIDS patients compared with other HIV-infected individuals and controls. Plasma levels of IGFBP-2 and IGFBP-3 protease activity correlated positively to virus load (P < 0.001) and tumor necrosis factor-alpha (P < 0.025) and negatively to CD4(+) and CD8(+) cell counts (P < 0.001). AIDS patients with wasting (n = 13) had lower IGF-II levels (P = 0.001) and higher IGFBP-2 levels (P = 0.001) than other AIDS patients. Although no significant change in any of the IGF-parameters was observed in patients during antiretroviral therapy, patients with elevated IGFBP-3 protease activity before therapy (5 of 34) all had a decrease during treatment. During longitudinal testing in patients followed without antiretroviral therapy, disease progression was associated with increases in IGFBP-3 protease activity and IGFBP-2 levels. Our results reveal several alterations in the IGF system during HIV infection with decreased IGF-II levels, increased concentration of IGFBP-2, and an increased IGFBP-3 protease activity in advanced disease.