Transbronchial needle aspiration (TBNA) of intrathoracic lymph nodes has been shown to be useful in the diagnosis and staging of bronchogenic carcinoma. With the exception of sarcoidosis, the usefulness of TBNA has not been widely investigated in other clinical settings. We investigated the utility of TBNA with a 19-gauge histology needle in HIV-infected patients with mediastinal and hilar adenopathy at Bellevue Hospital Center. We performed 44 procedures in 41 patients. Adequate lymph node sampling was obtained in 35 of 44 (80%), and diagnostic material was obtained in 23 of 44 (52%) procedures. TBNA was the exclusive means of diagnosis in 13 of 41 (32%) patients. Of the 44 procedures, 23 (52%) were performed in patients with mycobacterial disease, with TBNA providing the diagnosis in 20 of 23 (87%). In these patients, positive TBNA specimens included smears of aspirated materials for acid-fast bacilli in 11, mycobacterial culture in 14, and histology in 15. In other diseases, TBNA diagnosed sarcoidosis with noncaseating granulomata in 2 of 4 patients and non-small cell lung cancer in 1 of 2 patients. TBNA was not helpful in other diseases including Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia, infection with Cryptococcus or Nocardia, bacterial pneumonia, viral pneumonia, and Kaposi's sarcoma. No pulmonary diagnosis was established in five patients. No complications of TBNA occurred. We conclude that TBNA through the flexible bronchoscope is safe and effective in the diagnosis of intrathoracic adenopathy in HIV-infected patients, and is particularly efficacious in the diagnosis of mycobacterial disease. Furthermore, TBNA may provide the only diagnostic specimen in almost one-third of HIV-infected patients, thereby sparing these patients more invasive procedures such as mediastinoscopy.