BACKGROUND: Intravenous amphotericin B, with or without flucytosine, is usually standard therapy for cryptococcal meningitis in patients with the acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). Fluconazole, an oral triazole agent, represents a promising new approach to the treatment of cryptococcal disease. METHODS: In a randomized multicenter trial, we compared intravenous amphotericin B with oral fluconazole as primary therapy for AIDS-associated acute cryptococcal meningitis. Eligible patients, in all of whom the diagnosis had been confirmed by culture, were randomly assigned in a 2:1 ratio to receive either fluconazole (200 mg per day) or amphotericin B. Treatment was considered successful if the patient had had two consecutive negative cerebrospinal fluid cultures by the end of the 10-week treatment period. RESULTS: Of the 194 eligible patients, 131 received fluconazole and 63 received amphotericin B (mean daily dose, 0.4 mg per kilogram of body weight in patients with successful treatment and 0.5 mg per kilogram in patients with treatment failure; P = 0.34). Treatment was successful in 25 of the 63 amphotericin B recipients (40 percent; 95 percent confidence interval, 26 percent to 53 percent) and in 44 of the 131 fluconazole recipients (34 percent; 95 percent confidence interval, 25 percent to 42 percent) (P = 0.40). There was no significant difference between the groups in overall mortality due to cryptococcosis (amphotericin vs. fluconazole, 9 of 63 [14 percent] vs. 24 of 131 [18 percent]; P = 0.48); however, mortality during the first two weeks of therapy was higher in the fluconazole group (15 percent vs. 8 percent; P = 0.25). The median length of time to the first negative cerebrospinal fluid culture was 42 days (95 percent confidence interval, 28 to 71) in the amphotericin B group and 64 days (95 percent confidence interval, 53 to 67) in the fluconazole group (P = 0.25). Multivariate analyses identified abnormal mental status (lethargy, somnolence, or obtundation) as the most important predictive factor of a high risk of death during therapy (P less than 0.0001). CONCLUSIONS: Fluconazole is an effective alternative to amphotericin B as primary treatment of cryptococcal meningitis in patients with AIDS. Single-drug therapy with either drug is most effective in patients who are at low risk for treatment failure. The optimal therapy for patients at high risk remains to be determined.