Most cases of low-grade cervical intraepithelial neoplasia (CIN) associated with oncogenic human papillomavirus (HPV) types regress spontaneously within years. Unknown co-factors seem to be necessary for a progression to malignancy. To determine the possible role of cellular immunodeficiency as such a co-factor in the genesis of genital neoplasia, 48 HIV-infected women and 52 allograft recipients were examined periodically during a 3-year period. Colposcopy, cytology and HPV-DNA typing (ViraType) were performed at each visit. Each cervical lesion was matched prospectively with 2 lesions from immunocompetent controls. In all, 29/100 patients suffered from cervical neoplasms, including 2 advanced cervical cancers and 9 CIN3 lesions. Correlation between grade of lesion and HPV DNA 16/18 was significant. Low-grade lesions among patients progressed more often than among controls and recurrent lesions after destructive treatment were seen more frequently among patients than among controls. All patients with CD4-lymphocyte counts of < 400/microliters or immunosuppression for more than 3 years suffered from progressive lesions. We conclude that malfunction of the cellular immune response following either HIV-induced depletion or iatrogenic inhibition of CD4-lymphocyte activation, enhances the progression of HPV-induced cervical lesions to malignancy.