A collaborative multicenter study was conducted to evaluate the sensitivity, specificity, and precision of a three-step, fully automated, qualitative microparticle-based enzyme-linked immunoassay (AxSYM HIV Ag/Ab Combo; Abbott Laboratories), designed to simultaneously detect (i). antibodies against human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) and/or type 2 (HIV-2) and (ii). HIV p24 antigen. A significant reduction in the HIV seroconversion window was achieved by combining detection of HIV antibodies and antigen into a single assay format. For 22 selected, commercial HIV seroconversion panels, the mean time of detection with the combined-format HIV antigen-antibody assay was reduced by 6.15 days compared to that with a similar third-generation single-format HIV antibody assay. The quantitative sensitivity of the combination assay for the p24 antigen (17.5 pg/ml by use of the p24 quantitative panel VIH SFTS96') was nearly equivalent to that of single-format antigen tests. The combination assay demonstrated sensitive (100%) detection of anti-HIV immunoglobulin in specimens from individuals in CDC stages A, B, and C and from individuals infected with different HIV-1 group M subtypes, group O, or HIV-2. The apparent specificity for hospitalized patients (n = 1938) was 99.90%. In a random population of 7900 volunteer blood donors, the specificity (99.87%) was comparable to that of a third-generation single-format HIV antibody assay (99.92%) on the same donor specimens. In addition, the combination assay was robust to potential interfering specimens. The precision of the combination was high, with intra- and interrun variances of <or=9.3% for each precision panel specimen or assay control and <or=5.3% for the negative assay control.