Binding of the human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) external envelope glycoprotein (gp120) has been reported to alter the function and surface antigen expression of lymphocytes and monocytes in vitro. To determine whether these in vitro findings could be relevant in vivo, we searched for the presence of this antigen in the serum of patients with AIDS and the AIDS-related complex (ARC). Using an antigen capture enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) with polyclonal anti-gp120 antibody, we detected envelope antigens (gp160/120) in serum of 22 of 32 AIDS patients. In contrast, an ELISA using solid-phase recombinant CD4 to capture gp160/120 failed to detect any positives. A modification of the anti-gp120-based ELISA identified gp160/120-IgG immune complexes in all of 11 AIDS patients tested and in 4 ARC patients who were negative for gp160/120 antigen. We conclude that gp160/120, predominantly in the form of immune complexes, can be identified as circulating antigen in patients with AIDS. The potential pathogenic consequences of this antigenemia, its relation to soluble CD4 therapy, and its application as a clinical marker of disease merit further study.