In the present study, the California Verbal Learning Test (CVLT) was administered to symptomatic HIV+ (n = 31), asymptomatic HIV+ (n = 94), and HIV-normal control (HIV-NC) (n = 40) subjects to assess the prevalence and nature of their verbal memory deficits. Symptomatic HIV+ subjects were significantly impaired relative to HIV-control subjects on CVLT measures of acquisition and retention, and were significantly less likely than control subjects to use a semantic clustering strategy to support recall. The performance of the asymptomatic HIV+ subjects fell between those of the symptomatic HIV+ subjects and HIV-controls on almost every CVLT measure. A linear discriminant function analysis (DFA) was used to compare the performances of these three groups to Alzheimer's disease (AD). Huntington's disease (HD), and normal control (NC) subjects on three CVLT measures, including total recall over five learning trials, intrusion errors, and a derived score of delayed recognition discriminability minus the final learning trial. Significant differences were found between the number of symptomatic HIV+ subjects classified as HD (32%), AD (3%), and normal (65%), the number of asymptomatic HIV+ subjects classified as HD (16%), AD (1%), and normal (83%), and the number of HIV-NC subjects classified as HD (2%), AD (0%), and normal (98%). The profile of verbal memory deficits exhibited by the subgroup of impaired HIV+ subjects was similar to that of patients with HD, a prototypical subcortical dementia, and different from that of patients with AD, a prototypical cortical dementia. This finding is consistent with reports of the predominance of subcortical neuropathological changes associated with HIV infection.