The presence of core antigens of retrovirus HTLV-III/LAV, referred to as "AIDS-related virus" (AV), has been sought in lymph node samples of patients with persistent generalized lymphadenopathy (PGL, 28 patients), prodromal AIDS (1 patient) and AIDS with Kaposi sarcoma (3 patients). In 30 patients the deposition of viral antigens, detected by monoclonal antibodies to HTLV-III and LAV, could be observed within the germinal centers (GCs) primarily within the extracellular network of immune complexes, and the two patients who were negative were atypical. No AV could be found in normal tonsil or in samples with follicular hyperplasia of unknown etiology (20 cases). These findings, taken together with the ultrastructural identification of typical retrovirus particles in all 9 PGL and 2 AIDS cases studied, indicates that the network of follicular dendritic (FD) cells is an important reservoir of AV virus antigen at this site. The persistence of this retrovirus inside the GCs helps explain how the follicular hyperplasia affecting FD cells and B blasts in PGL may in progressive cases be accompanied by destruction of FD cells and gradual development of T4+ lymphopenia. T4+ T cells may circulate through the GCs and become infected with AV there. In addition, the identification of retrovirus antigen in situ may be of diagnostic value.