To evaluate the role of humoral immunity against simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV), we tested whether passive immunization with plasma from SIVmac251 vaccine-protected or healthy infected animals would protect rhesus monkeys against intravenous infection with ten 50% animal infectious doses of the cell-free homologous virus. The challenge dose of this SIVmac251 virus stock had previously caused persistent infection in all (21 of 21) nonimmunized controls. A plasma pool was obtained from a donor that had been immunized with an inactivated whole SIVmac251 vaccine produced in human T cells. This plasma pool contained low levels of SIVmac binding and neutralizing antibody but had a high titer of antibodies recognizing human cell proteins. Given 4 or 18 hr before intravenous challenge, this plasma completely protected three of eight recipients from infection and delayed virus detection in one recipient. The five unprotected animals had only a transient or undetectable p27 antigenemia and low virus load in their PBMCs, and all survived at least 7 months after infection. By contrast, no protection was observed in 6 monkeys given inactivated, pooled plasma or purified immunoglobulin (Ig) from healthy SIVmac251-infected animals. This plasma pool and the Ig preparation contained high levels of SIV-binding and neutralizing antibody but no reactivity to human cellular components. Five of the six recipients had persistent antigenemia after challenge and four died acutely from simian AIDS in 4-7 months. These studies suggest that passive transfer of antibody to human cellular antigens can confer protection against SIVmac whereas passive transfer of neutralizing antibodies without human cellular antibodies does not protect against the homologous virus and may enhance infection.