Human immunodeficiency virus, type 1 (HIV-1), produces a chronic infection with a long latency before clinical disease. We followed 214 untreated subjects for 12-42 months to study the natural history of HIV infection: 110 were classified as asymptomatic, 11 as AIDS-related complex (ARC), 15 as AIDS with Kaposi's sarcoma (KS), 31 as AIDS with opportunistic infections (AIDS/OI), and 47 were HIV-seronegative controls. The quantitative capacity of serum to complex HIV p24 antigen, termed the p24 binding capacity (p24 BC), and quantitative levels of HIV p24 antigen in serum were determined at regular intervals. For people in all diagnostic groups, a p24 BC below 31 ng/ml was more closely associated with progression to AIDS/OI than was p24 antigen positivity; 94% of AIDS/OI, 86% of ARC, 56% of AIDS/KS, and 19% of asymptomatic subjects had p24 BC less than 31 ng/ml during the study period, while 67% of AIDS/OI, 27% of ARC, 61% of AIDS/KS, and 20% of asymptomatic subjects were p24 antigenemic. Prospective analysis of 47 asymptomatic seropositive men followed for 3 years, who showed actuarial progression rates to ARC at 4%, 13%, and 23% and to AIDS at 5%, 8%, and 8% at 1,2, and 3 years, indicated that entry levels of p24 BC below 31 ng/ml were as strongly associated with progression to ARC/AIDS as was p24 antigenemia (p = 0.0003 vs. p = 0.008). The p24 binding capacity assay is a new and convenient methodology to measure immunocomplexing antibody to HIV p24 and is a powerful indicator of progressive HIV disease.