The env gene of SIV and HIV-1 encodes a single glycoprotein gp 160, which is processed to give a noncovalent complex of the soluble glycoprotein gp120 and the transmembrane glycoprotein gp41. The extracellular region (ectodomain), minus the N-terminal fusion peptide, of gp41 from HIV-1 (residues 27-154) and SIV (residues 27-149) have been expressed in Escherichia coli. These insoluble proteins were solubilized and subjected to a simple purification and folding scheme, which results in high yields of soluble protein. Purified proteins have a trimeric subunit composition and high alpha-helical content, consistent with the predicted coil-coil structure. SIV gp41 containing a double cysteine mutation was crystallized. The crystals are suitable for X-ray structure determination and, preliminary analysis, together with additional biochemical evidence, indicates that the gp41 trimer is arranged as a parallel bundle with threefold symmetry.