Efforts to solve the epidemiologic puzzle of AIDS in Africa are complicated by the presence of multiple human retroviruses. Simple serologic tests that unambiguously distinguish among infections by these retroviruses are essential. To that end, a partially conserved immunoreactive epitope was identified in the transmembrane glycoproteins of human immunodeficiency viruses (HIV) types 1 and 2. Synthetic peptides derived from these conserved domains were used in sensitive and specific immunoassays that detect antibodies in sera from patients infected with HIV-1 or HIV-2. By making single amino acid substitutions in the HIV-1 peptide, it was possible to demonstrate HIV-1 strain-specific antibody responses to this epitope. Such custom-designed peptides synthesized from this domain are likely to detect newly discovered HIV types, define infection with specific HIV strains, and allow detection of group-common antibodies.