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Sera from 11 volunteers immunized with a recombinant HIV-1 gp160-expressing vaccinia virus (HIVAC-1e; Oncogen/Bristol-Myers Squibb, Seattle, WA) and boosted with baculovirus-derived rgp160 (VaxSyn; MicroGeneSys, Inc., Meriden, CT) were evaluated for functional serum antibodies and their epitopes. Sera obtained prior to boosting had undetectable HIV-1-specific IgG and neutralizing activity, and did not block HIV-1 from binding or fusing to CD4+ MT-2 cells. 14 d after boosting, sera from each volunteer contained HIV-1-specific IgG titers of 1:40 to 1:1,280. Five of these sera also contained neutralizing antibodies, where most or all neutralizing activity was blocked by a synthetic peptide corresponding to amino acids 307-330 of the V3 loop of gp120, indicating that neutralizing antibodies were mostly V3 loop-specific. All sera obtained after boosting contained HIV-1 binding/fusion-inhibition antibodies, and a significant portion of their activity was blocked by the V3 loop peptide, a result consistent with the presence of antibodies against the region of the V3 loop that participates in fusion. Three sera with V3 loop-specific neutralizing and fusion-inhibition antibodies were studied further. In competitive antibody binding experiments, antibodies reactive with the conformation-dependent, CD4 binding site of gp120 were undetectable in each serum. When evaluated in combination with a monoclonal antibody to the CD4 binding site of gp120, two sera demonstrated synergism in neutralizing assays, and all three sera demonstrated synergism in binding/fusion-inhibition assays, further indicating that the functional antibodies were primarily V3 loop-specific. The synergism also suggests that a vaccine that elicits strong serum antibody responses to both regions of gp120 may improve the potential for inducing protective immunity.