Monoclonal antibodies that bound to HIV gp41 and cross-reacted with astrocytes were recovered from the blood of three patients infected with HIV-1. Mapping of the specificity of these monoclonal antibodies, using synthetic gp41 peptides, located their epitope to amino acids 644-663 and established their conformation dependence. Six other human monoclonal anti-HIV antibodies were found to bind to HIV gp41 or gp120 but not to reactive astrocytes in brain tissue. Sharing of linear or conformational protein determinants between disparate viral and host proteins is termed molecular mimicry. The consequences of such mimicry by anti-viral antibodies interacting with astrocytes may play a role in the dementia of AIDS patients since a major function of astrocytes is to maintain the appropriate milieu for neuronal function. The finding of such cross-reactive antibodies adds to the evidence for a possible autoimmune pathogenesis in some of the disease manifestations accompanying HIV infection.