Atherosclerosis has been reported in some HIV-positive subjects without any known risk factor. The purpose of the present study was to investigate cervical arteries, abdominal aorta and femoral arteries by B-mode ultrasonography and doppler in 30 HIV-positive subjects matched to 18 controls for sex, age, tobacco consumption and arterial hypertension. Although no haemodynamically or clinically relevant lesions were found, plaques occurred more often in patients than in controls (11 patients, 36.7% vs. 2, 11.1%; P = 0.05). Compared to the HIV-positive patients without plaques, those with plaques had a tendency to have decreased lower HDL cholesterol, higher tobacco consumption and lower CD4-cell count (77 +/- 85/mm3 vs. 220 +/- 202/mm3). The patients with plaques (but not those without plaques) had lower HDL cholesterol than controls (P = 0.03). Asymptomatic atherosclerosis seems to be more frequent in HIV-positive patients and is associated to lower HDL cholesterol.