HIV-associated nephropathy (HIV-N) is considered a distinctive disease, the pathogenesis of which is still undefined. Direct virus-induced renal cell damage has been postulated. The numerous cytolytic ultrastructural changes and a few studies by immunoperoxidase support this hypothesis, but there has been no demonstration of virus by electron-microscopy (EM) or by tissue culture. In seven out of 12 cases with histological characteristics of HIV nephropathy, with proteinuria (five cases) or with nephrotic syndrome (two cases), we tested renal tissue for HIV antigens: core p18 and p25; envelope gp45 and gp110, by means of immunoperoxidase avidin-biotin complex monoclonal antibodies (MoAbs). Light-microscopy (LM) showed in five patients a focal and segmental glomerular sclerosis, and in two a mesangial hyperplasia with vacuolisation of visceral epithelium and protein inclusions. Electron-microscopy, performed in five of seven patients, showed several protein inclusions in podocyte cytoplasm, tubuloreticular inclusions in endothelial cell cytoplasm in all cases, nuclear degranulation of tubular cells in four cases and nuclear bodies in two. HIV antigens by MoAbs on renal tissue were negative in all cases, in both glomeruli and tubules. These results do not confirm the presence of HIV proteins in renal tissue of patients with HIV nephropathy. A possible explanation, apart from no direct HIV in the disease, may be the low viral load in tissues, because of the early phases of renal damage in most cases.