Sera from human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1)-infected and -noninfected individuals were screened for antibodies that could bind to native T cell differentiation antigens. Antibodies that could immunoprecipitate CD43 (sialophorin, leukosialin) from a T cell lymphoma line were detected in sera from 27% of patients, and antibodies that could bind specifically to transfected cells expressing CD43 were detected in 47% of patients. The anti-CD43 antibodies were related to HIV-1 infection in that no patients with other chronic viral infections or systemic lupus erythematosus contained such antibodies in their sera. The anti-CD43 autoantibodies bound to a partially sialylated form of CD43 expressed by normal human thymocytes, but not by normal, circulating T lymphocytes. However, the determinant(s) recognized by the anti-CD43 autoantibodies was present on a large proportion of circulating T lymphocytes, but masked from antibody recognition by sialic acid residues. These results demonstrate that HIV-1 infection is specifically associated with the production of autoantibodies that bind to a native T cell surface antigen.