Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is implicated in the development of AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome). HIV infection leads to the generation of HIV-specific thymus-derived (T) lymphocytes in humans and apes. We describe an experimental system permitting the quantitative and systematic analysis of HIV-specific cytotoxic T lymphocytes (CTL). Functional, HIV-specific CTL are obtained by broncho-alveolar lavage (BAL) from the lungs of seropositive patients with lymphocytic alveolitis. These alveolar CTL: (1) recognize and kill HIV-infected alveolar macrophages in vitro under autologous, but not heterologous, conditions; (2) correspond to standard CTL as they express the CD3 and CD8 surface markers, but not the CD4 marker; and (3) are restricted by class I HLA transplantation antigens in their cytotoxic activities. We propose the hypothesis that interactions between HIV-specific CTL and infected macrophages induce major inflammatory reactions in seropositive patients.