The membrane-proximal external region (MPER) of human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) gp41 bears the epitopes of two broadly neutralizing antibodies (Abs), 2F5 and 4E10, making it a target for vaccine design. A third Ab, Fab Z13, had previously been mapped to an epitope that overlaps those of 2F5 and 4E10 but only weakly neutralizes a limited set of primary isolates. Here, libraries of Fab Z13 variants displayed on phage were engineered and affinity selected against an MPER peptide and recombinant gp41. A high-affinity variant, designated Z13e1, was isolated and found to be approximately 100-fold improved over the parental Fab not only in binding affinity for the MPER antigens but also in neutralization potency against sensitive HIV-1. Alanine scanning of MPER residues 664 to 680 revealed that N671 and D674 are crucial for peptide recognition as well as for the neutralization of HIV-1 by Z13e1. Ab competition studies and truncation of MPER peptides indicate that Z13e1 binds with high affinity to an epitope between and overlapping with those of 2F5 and 4E10, with the minimal peptide epitope WASLWNWFDITN. Still, Z13e1 remained about an order of magnitude less potent than 4E10 against several isolates of pseudotyped HIV-1. The sum of our molecular analyses with Z13e1 suggests that the segment on the MPER of gp41 between the 2F5 and 4E10 epitopes is exposed on the functional envelope trimer but that access to the specific Z13e1 epitope within this segment is limited. Thus, the ability of MPER-bearing immunogens to elicit potent HIV-1-neutralizing Abs may depend in part on recapitulating the particular constraints that the functional envelope trimer imposes on the segment of the MPER to which Z13e1 binds.