Six recombinant human Fab fragments that were derived from the same human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1)-infected individual and are directed against the CD4 binding site (CD4bs) of the gp120 envelope glycoprotein were studied. A range of neutralizing activity against the HIV-1 (HXBc2) isolate was observed, with Fab b12 exhibiting the greatest potency among the Fabs tested. The neutralizing potency of Fab b12 was better than that of monoclonal whole antibodies directed against the third variable (V3) region of gp120. To explore the basis for the efficient neutralizing activity of b12, the recognition of a panel of HIV-1 gp120 mutants by the six Fabs was studied. The patterns of sensitivity to particular gp120 amino acid changes were similar for all six Fabs to those seen for anti-CD4bs monoclonal antibodies derived from HIV-1-infected individuals by conventional means. In addition, recognition by Fab b12 demonstrated an atypical sensitivity to changes in the V1 and V2 variable regions. Next, the binding of the Fabs to monomeric gp120 and to the envelope glycoprotein complex was examined. Neither the binding properties of the b12 Fab to monomeric gp120 nor the ability of the Fab to compete with soluble CD4 for monomeric gp120 binding appeared to account for the greater neutralizing potency. However, both quantitative and qualitative differences between the binding of b12 and that of less potent Fabs to the cell surface envelope glycoprotein complex were observed. Relative to less potently neutralizing Fabs, Fab b12 exhibited a higher affinity for a subpopulation of cell surface envelope glycoproteins, the conformation of which was best approximated by the mature gp120 glycoprotein. Apparently, subtle differences in the gp120 epitope recognized allow some members of the group of anti-CD4bs antibodies to bind to the functionally relevant envelope glycoprotein complex and to neutralize virus more efficiently.