Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) was detected by assay of reverse transcriptase activity in a "virus pellet" obtained by differential sucrose density centrifugation of cell-free semen from three patients with the acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), one individual with AIDS-related complex (ARC), and in an asymptomatic homosexual male. Reverse transcriptase assays indicated virus concentrations in the range of 10(8) particles/ml of semen, an accumulation substantiated by electron microscopic visualization of cell-free virus. This is the first description of cell-free retrovirus in seminal fluid and at a greater concentration than reported for blood or other body fluids or tissues. These results suggest that the male reproductive tract of humans may be a reservoir of HIV expression, and raises the possibility that the cells lining the epididymal lumen could be chronically infected with HIV. These are important considerations in formulating treatment and preventive strategies.