To increase the inherently weak immunogenicity of synthetic peptide vaccines, we used recombinant DNA techniques to generate chimeras between immunogenic determinants of human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) gp120 and antibody Fab fragments reactive with surface structures displayed specifically on human antigen-presenting cells (APCs), including surface immunoglobulin D (sIgD) and class II major histocompatibility complex (MHC) molecules. Hybridomas producing anti-human MHC class II (HLA-DR) or surface immunoglobulin D monoclonal antibodies (MAbs) that recognize nonpolymorphic determinants were used to clone chimeric Fab gene fragments by employing an established procedure to generate antigen-binding Fab libraries in phagemid vector pComb3. Molecular and immunochemical analysis indicated that the expected chimeric Fab fragments expressing the HIV-1 epitopes were correctly cloned and expressed in Escherichia coli and retained the binding specificity of the native (hybridoma-derived) MAb. The chimeric Fab fragments targeted the linked HIV-1-derived antigenic determinants to the surface of human APCs in vitro, as evidenced by fluorescence-activated cell sorter analysis. Furthermore, such recombinant immunotargeted HIV-1 peptide antigens demonstrated improved immunogenicity over equivalent nonimmunotargeted control antigens, as shown by their ability to stimulate interleukin-2 production by CD4+ T-helper cells from human donors exposed to HIV-1 antigens. These data suggest that immunotargeting of recombinant peptide antigens via the attached Fab fragments facilitates uptake by human APCs with subsequent access to the MHC class II processing pathway, thereby validating the immunotargeting concept for such recombinant subunit vaccines in an in vitro human system.