The increased prevalence and the severity of oropharyngeal candidiasis in human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)-positive patients are attributed exclusively to the virus-induced immune deficiency of the host. The present study was aimed at answering the question of whether Candida albicans secretory proteinase, a putative virulence factor of the opportunistic C. albicans yeast, has any potential influence on the clinical manifestation of oropharyngeal candidiasis in HIV-positive patients. We measured the secretory proteinase activities of clinical C. albicans isolates from the oropharynges of either HIV-positive individuals (n = 100) or a control group (n = 122). The mean secretory proteinase activity of C. albicans isolates from the HIV- positive group (4,255 ± 2,372 U/liter) was significantly higher compared with that of isolates from the control group (2,324 ± 1,487 U/liter) (P < 0.05). The higher level of secretory proteinase activity in the culture supernatants of individual C. albicans isolates correlated with the increased level of proteinase expression on the cell surface, as revealed by cytofluorometry, and with higher levels of secretion of the immunodetectable protein, as shown by Western blotting (immunoblotting). Proteinase activity within the population of C. albicans isolates from HIV-positive individuals was independent of the patient's clinical disease stage and the CD4+/CD8+ cell numbers. Furthermore, no correlation of the proteinase activities with the C. albicans serotype was found, although C. albicans serotype B was significantly more frequent in the HIV-positive group (40%) compared with that in the control group (12%). However, a positive correlation of proteinase activity to antifungal susceptibility was evident. The C. albicans isolates from the HIV-positive group that were characterized by higher levels of proteinase activity were also less susceptible to the widely used azole antifungal agents ketoconazole and fluconazole. Collectively, the present data are consistent with a concept of early preferential selection of a subpopulation of C. albicans in HIV-infected patients.