Human immunodeficiency virus type-1 (HIV-1) infection requires binding of the envelope protein gp120 to host CD4 receptors and the action of the chemokine receptors CXCR4 or CCR5, which define cell tropism. The proline-containing V3 loop of gp120 determines the selection of the chemokine receptor and participates in conformational changes on binding of gp120 to CD4. In this study, we show that macrophage-tropic and T-cell-tropic V3 loop peptides bind specifically to the active site of the immunophilins FK506-binding protein (FKBP12), and cyclophilins A and B. Macrophage-tropic and T-cell-tropic V3 loop peptides inhibited the peptidyl-prolyl cis-trans isomerase (PPIase) activities of the immunophilins. Kd values in the range 0.036-4.1 microM were determined with V3 loop peptides labeled with an environmentally sensitive fluorophore. The observed binding properties of the V3 loop peptides reveal structural motifs of linear water-soluble peptidic substrates for tight interaction with immunophilins. FKBP12, and cyclophilins A and B were found to be present in normal human blood in the ranges 0.8-1.7, 1.4-2.3 and 2.4-3.1 nM, respectively, as demonstrated by PPIase activity measurements and western blot analysis. Cyclophilins A and B levels in serum of HIV-1-infected individuals were increased 3.6-fold and 1.6-fold. Due to the interaction of immunophilins with V3 loop peptides and with the envelope protein gp120, a role of immunophilins in HIV pathogenesis as conformases or docking mediators seems possible, since immunophilin receptors on cell membranes and immunophilin-related virulence factors of pathogens have been identified.