Whole saliva samples collected from available people at risk in Boston for infection with human T-lymphotropic virus type III (HTLV-III/LAV), from late 1984 through early 1985, were analyzed for the presence of antibodies to viral proteins. Fourteen of 20 (70%) acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) patients and 14 of 15 (93%) AIDS- related complex (ARC) patients had salivary antibodies that reacted with the virus-encoded glycoproteins gp160 and gp120 of HTLV-III infected cells. All of the AIDS and ARC patients had serum antibodies to the same antigens. Of 20 sex partners of AIDS/ARC patients, nine (45%) showed anti-HTLV-III antibodies, and four of 18 (22%) healthy homosexual males also were positive for such antibodies. Serum and salivary antibody status were the same in these groups. A minority of those patients positive for salivary antibodies to env gene-encoded gp160 and gp120 also had salivary antibodies to gag gene-encoded proteins of 55,000, 24,000, and/or 17,000 daltons. Immunoglobulin A (IgA) class antibodies comprised the majority of the salivary antibody response. The spectrum of HTLV-III proteins detected by the salivary and serum antibodies was similar. The possibility that secretory IgA from the gut-associated lymphoid system may play a role to restrict salivary transmission of HTLV-III should be considered.