Monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) directed against the amino-terminal region (N-terminal sequence 2-19) of transactivator protein (tat) of HIV-1 have been shown to inhibit intercellular transactivation mediated by the extracellular tat protein. The intracellular transactivation was not significantly affected by anti-tat mAbs, The specificity of anti-tat mAbs in abolishing the transactivating potential of extracellular tat is documented by studies with mAbs to HIV-1 reverse transcriptase, or to a human mammary cancer protein. None of these antibodies showed any inhibitory effect on intercellular transactivation, Specific interaction of anti-tat Ige with tat protein expressed in Jurkat cells is further supported by experiments on immunoblotting, Extracellular tat is responsible for signals which induce a variety of biological responses in HIV-infected cells, as well as in uninfected cells. The fact that anti-tat mAbs can abolish the intercellular traffic of tat protein offers a unique strategy in the development of vaccines against AIDS. (C) 1999 Federation of European Biochemical Societies.