The sera of 34 acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) patients and 20 healthy male homosexuals were examined for the presence of elevated levels of IgA and IgM rheumatoid factor (RF) and compared with results obtained with sera from 23 healthy laboratory volunteers. IgA RF levels were elevated (>3 standard deviation units) in 9 of 34 (26%) patients with AIDS as compared to the panel of laboratory controls. Levels of IgM RF did not differ significantly in the AIDS patients and in the controls. There were no differences in levels of either IgA RF or IgM RF when the homosexual controls were compared with the laboratory volunteers. Sucrose-gradient ultracentrifugation experiments and assays using monoclonal reagents specific for IgA subclasses indicated that the IgA RF was predominantly of the polymeric configuration and restricted to the IgA1 subclass, respectively. Polyethylene glycol (PEG) precipitates of serum enriched for circulating immune complexes (CIC) were also assayed for the presence of IgA RF and IgM RF. Although levels of IgA RF in serum and in PEG precipitates did not correlate with levels of IgA- or IgA/IgG-containing CIC in AIDS patients, levels of IgA RF in both serum and CIC-enriched material were significantly elevated in the AIDS population when compared with the control panel. In contrast, levels of IgM RF in both serum and CIC-enriched material were low and not significantly different from those in healthy controls. These results indicate that both IgA-containing CIC and IgA RF occur in many AIDS patients and raise the possibility that IgA RF may contribute significantly to the formation of immune complexes in this disease. © 1988 Plenum Publishing Corporation.