Monoclonal antibodies against a synthetic 12-amino-acid peptide that comprises the immunodominant domain of human immunodeficiency virus type 1 gp41 (amino acids 598 through 609) reacted with astrocytes found in human and rodent central nervous system tissue. The monoclonal antibodies bound to a 43-kDa protein found in central nervous system tissue preparations. These results indicate that human immunodeficiency virus type 1 gp41 contains a common epitope with astrocytes and that an immune response to human immunodeficiency virus type 1 gp41 could generate antibodies that are cross-reactive to astrocytes. Furthermore, anti-astrocyte antibodies, which were directed at a common epitope with the gp41 sequence, were found to be present in cerebrospinal fluid from some AIDS patients with central nervous system complications. Astrocytes regulate the environment for appropriate neuronal function, and astrocyte hyperactivity (astrocytosis) is known to be the common and early pathologic event in brains from patients with central nervous system AIDS. We suggest that antibody-induced effect(s) on astrocytes could lead to the physiologic neuronal dysfunctions observed in AIDS patients.