To gain further insight into the pathogenesis of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection, lymph nodes from seven asymptomatic HIV+ subjects were analyzed during the latent phase of disease. Both ultrastructural and immunohistochemical analyses revealed that, in all of the cases, plasma cells producing IgM/gamma were present in germinal centers. Secreted immunoglobulins formed extracellular deposits mimicking the follicular dendritic cell network. Immunoglobulin produced by germinal center plasma cells are specific for HIV because they bind the HIV env protein gp 120. Plasma cells producing antibodies with the same specificity were also abundant in the extrafollicular regions of lymph nodes. During the latent phase of infection, the virus largely accumulates within the germinal centers. Therefore, extracellular immunoglobulin may form immune complexes, as shown by the presence of HIV-specific antibodies, HIV particles, and complement components C3c, C3d, and C1q in the interdendritic spaces. When the ultrastructural localization of HIV in germinal centers was analyzed, abundant virus particles were found in the interdendritic spaces. In addition to this extracellular localization of HIV, receptor-mediated endocytosis of viral particles by follicular dendritic cells was observed. Complete HIV particles were found within the endosomal compartment of the follicular dendritic cells and, as complete viral particles, free in the cytoplasm, indicating that the virus may escape from the endocytic compartment. As the virus is abundant in the cytoplasm, this event leads to formation of a hidden reservoir within follicular dendritic cells. In this location, HIV escapes recognition by cytotoxic T lymphocytes. In contrast, virus budding indicating a productive infection of follicular dendritic cells that would render them susceptible to T-cell-mediated lysis has been seldom observed.