An enzyme immunoassay based on an E. coli-produced HIV-1 rev gene product was used to detect rev-specific antibodies in longitudinally collected serum samples from 196 initially symptom-free men who were seropositive for antibodies to HIV-1 structural proteins and 72 men who seroconverted for such antibodies. In 61% of men no rev-specific antibodies were detected at all, 30% had persistently detectable rev-specific antibodies, and in 9% rev-specific antibodies were only transiently or intermittently detected. When a persistent rev-specific antibody response occurred in subjects who seroconverted to structural proteins, it was always, with one exception, found within 12 months of seroconversion. The rev-specific antibodies were also studied in a transectional sample of sera from the men who remained symptom-free and from those who developed AIDS-related conditions or AIDS, as well as in sera from 31 other men with AIDS-related conditions and in sera from 6 of these men at the time they developed AIDS. The rev-specific antibodies were found in 34% of symptom-free men, in 28% of patients with AIDS-related conditions, and in 16% of patients with AIDS. The low incidence of rev-specific antibodies early after infection may be due to low antigenicity of rev. The lower prevalence of rev-specific antibodies in sera from patients with AIDS, compared with patients with AIDS-related conditions and symptom-free HIV-1-infected individuals, may be explained by a progressive HIV-1-induced immunodeficiency. Studying rev-specific antibodies in HIV-1-infected individuals will be of limited value in understanding the role of rev in the pathogenesis of HIV-1-related disease.