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OBJECTIVE: We assessed the clinical, histological, and virological features of anogenital human papillomavirus (HPV) infection, according to their immune status in HIV-1 infected men, referred for an anogenital examination or treatment, in comparison with immunocompetent patients. METHODS: The study population comprised 33 HIV-1 infected heterosexual or homosexual men and 38 HIV negative men seen in a screening and treatment centre for anogenital HPV infections. All patients were examined with a colposcope. Biopsies were carried out on all subjects with anogenital lesions for histological studies and HPV detection by Southern blot. RESULTS: The HIV infected patients had a balanopreputial HPV infection in 70%, anal in 30%, and urethral in 37%, while HIV negative patients had balanopreputial lesion in 72%, anal in 26%, and urethral in 16%. Diffuse anogenital lesions were present in 33% of the HIV infected cases and in 10.5% of HIV negative cases (p < 0.02). Among the HIV infected patients, the genital HPV lesions were condylomatous in 67.5% of the cases and dysplastic in 57%. HIV negative patients had condylomatous lesions in 86% of the cases and dysplasic in 14%. The condylomatous lesions of HIV infected patients had a low grade malignant histological aspect in 36% of the cases and high grade histological criteria were found in 22% of the dysplasias. Oncogenic HPVs were detected more frequently in HIV infected patients (35% v 12%) and more than one HPV type was found in 21.5% of cases. Neither the anogenital diffusion of the HPV lesions nor their morphological, histological, and virological features differed significantly in patient with CD4 cell counts > or < 200 x 10(6)/l. In contrast, patients with CD4 cell counts < 50 x 10(6)/l had a higher risk of several types of HPVs and of developing a diffuse anogenital infection. CONCLUSION: HIV-1 infected patients had an increased frequency of high grade anogenital dysplastic lesions and a higher frequency of HPV infection with multiple and diffuse sites of involvement. These characteristics of HPV infection were independent of the patients' immune status up to CD4 cell counts > 50 x 10(6)/l but showed an increased risk when the CD4 cell count was < 50 x 10(6)/l. The higher frequency of diffuse anogenital infections among HIV infected men calls for rapid treatment, laser or surgery, given the association of histological features of intraepithelial neoplasia and the presence of multiple HPV infection sites which may be the consequence of immune disturbances, most of which are transmissible potentially oncogenic HPVs.