Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) proteins were detected by immunohistochemistry in the duodenal and rectal mucosa of 30% of 127 AIDS patients studied. HIV-infected cells were present in the lamina propria in 95% of the positive biopsies. They were immune cells, either isolated lymphocytes and macrophages (1-4 per positive biopsy) or dendritic reticulum cells forming a network in the germinal centres of mucosal lymphoid follicles. HIV proteins were not found in the duodenal epithelium or in the superficial rectal epithelium. In two cases (5% of the positive biopsies), they were found in rectal glands: the HIV-infected cells could be either epithelial cells or immune cells. This study confirms that the gut can be a target organ for HIV and that HIV is mainly carried by gut immune cells. The phenotypic study of lymphoid populations and macrophages in the gut mucosa of AIDS patients showed an inverse CD4/CD8 ratio in the lamina propria, compared with normal controls. This was independent of the presence of HIV proteins and is probably responsible for the appearance of opportunistic infections in the mucosa. An increase in activated macrophages was also noted in the mucosa of AIDS patients.