To identify epitopes important in neutralizing primary HIV-1 isolates, we have selectively depleted HIV-1 sera of antibodies specific for the third hypervariable region (V3) of the HIV-1 envelope glycoprotein gp120, and then assessed the functional consequences of such depletion in neutralization assays. The nucleotide sequence of the V3 loop region from HIV-1 PBMC DNA was determined for three HIV-1-infected patients, corresponding peptides were synthesized, and then subsequently used for V3 depletion of the patient sera. Depletion using a single clade B V3 peptide was capable of depleting > 98% of binding antibodies to multiple clade B V3 peptides, including those with changes within the GPGX tip of the loop. Depleted and undepleted sera were studied for their ability to neutralize both laboratory-adapted HIV-1MN and two primary HIV-1 isolates with known V3 sequences, using a viral infectivity reduction assay. While the majority of HIV-1MN neutralization was lost on V3 depletion, the loss in neutralization capacity against primary isolates by these same V3-depleted sera was substantially less pronounced. This suggests that V3 peptide-specific antibodies within HIV-1 serum play a fundamentally different role in mediating neutralization in assays involving laboratory-adapted and primary isolates and implicates antibodies with epitope specificities outside of V3 as major determinants in neutralization assays involving primary isolates.