We reviewed the clinical, radiographic, and pathologic features of 15 patients with the acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) and progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy (PML). Brain tissue from 10 autopsy and 6 biopsy specimens was studied using: in situ hybridization (ISH) for JC virus (JCV), immunohistochemistry for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) p24 antigen, and electron microscopy. Thirteen patients presented with focal neurologic deficits, while 2 presented with a rapid decline in mental status. PML was commonly the initial opportunistic infection of AIDS and produced hemiparesis, dementia, dysarthria, cerebellar abnormalities, and seizures. Magnetic resonance imaging was more sensitive than computed tomography in detecting lesions, and often showed multifocal areas of PML. CD4+ T-cell counts were uniformly low (mean 84/mm3), except in 1 patient who improved on 3'-azido-3'-deoxythymidine (AZT). PML involved the cerebral hemispheres, brain stem, cerebellum, and cervical spinal cord. The distribution of brain involvement was consistent with hematogenous dissemination of the virus. In 2 brain specimens, multiple HIV-type giant cells were present within the regions involved by PML. When co-infection by HIV and papovavirus was present, PML dominated the pathological picture. ISH for JCV showed virus in the nuclei of oligodendrocytes and astrocytes. Occasionally there was staining for JCV in the cytoplasm of glial cells and in the neuropil, the latter possibly a correlate of papovavirus spread between myelin sheaths, as seen by electron microscopy. ISH demonstrated more extensive foci of PML than did routine light microscopy.