The levels of the 2’-5’ oligoadenylate enzyme synthetase in extracts of peripheral blood mononuclear cells from individuals with acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) and AIDS-related complex (ARC) were measured and compared with synthetase levels in peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMs) from healthy heterosexual and homosexual controls. The mean basal synthetase level in heterosexual and homosexual controls was 14 ± 13 and 12 ± 9 pmol per hr/1O5 PBMs, respectively. Thirteen individuals with AIDS had a mean basal level of 129 ± 75 pmol. Serial levels were persistently elevated in six of these individuals over a one- to lO-month period. Twelve of the 13 individuals had antibodies to human T cell lymphotrophic virus-III/lymphadenopathy-associated virus (HTLV-III/LAV). Thirty-three individuals with ARC had a mean basal synthetase level of 68 ± 84 pmol. Thirty-two of the 33 had antibodies to HTLV-III/LAV. Eleven (33%) have had consistently normal synthetase levels (<2 SD above the mean for the homosexual controls, i.e., 30 pmol) over a three- to nine-month follow-up period. Fourteen (42%) had persistently elevated levels over the same period; four (29%) of these developed AIDS during the follow-up period. Eight have had fluctuating levels but have remained clinically well. These studies suggest that persistently elevated synthetase levels in individuals with ARC and antibodies to HTLV-III/LAV indicate progressive virus-induced disease activity. Elevated synthetase levels may be an important prognostic indicator of increased risk of progression to AIDS.