The aim of the present study was to evaluate the fine specificity of anticardiolipin (aCL) antibodies detectable in the sera of patients with HIV infection. aCL are generally associated with thrombotic events in autoimmune diseases. A solid phase ELISA which discriminates between aCL binding to phospholipids and aCL binding to phospholipid/beta 2-glycoprotein I (cofactor) complex was employed. Thirty-nine HIV and 20 aCL positive systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) sera were examined. In HIV sera, reduced binding to phospholipid was seen if cofactor was added. On the contrary, in SLE-sera the cofactor improved aCL binding. No thrombotic events were recorded in HIV infected subjects presenting with aCL. Thus, aCL in HIV infection and in SLE appear to have different specificities. In HIV infection the true epitope of aCL is likely to be on the phospholipid component only, whereas in SLE aCL seem directed against the cofactor/CL complex. Considering the anticoagulant role of beta 2-glycoprotein I, this observation might account for the lack of thrombosis in HIV patients with "true" aCL.