The spinal cord and the thoracic and lumbar posterior root ganglia (PRGs) of 14 HIV-positive men and 7 age- and sex-matched controls were studied by routine histology, morphometric analysis of the number of nodules of Nageotte (nN) and the diameters of sensory ganglion cells, immunohistochemistry and in situ hybridization. In 7 patients (2 of whom had evidence of cytomegalovirus ganglionitis) there were increased numbers of nN and diffuse, mild infiltration with CD45R+ T lymphocytes; no B lymphocytes were observed. Macrophages were increased in number in all cases. Whenever more than one ganglion was examined from the same patient, the appearances were similar in all. There was no alteration in the distribution of ganglion cell diameters. Changes in the spinal cord included vacuolar myelopathy (5 cases), HIV myelitis (1 case), microglial nodules (3 cases) and pallor of the gracile tracts (GTP) in 7 cases, in 6 of whom it co-existed with increased numbers of nN. Seven cases had no abnormalities, except the increase in number of macrophages in PRGs. In spite of a correlation between sensory nerve cell loss and GTP our findings suggest that other mechanisms, such as 'dying back' may contribute to the pathogenesis of GTP. Moreover, sensory disturbances were found most commonly in association with nerve cell loss; however, loss of sensory ganglion cells was not necessarily associated with evidence of sensory impairment.