A case control study of AIDS related sclerosing cholangitis indicates that it has no overall influence on prognosis, but is responsible for a striking reversal of the usual inverse correlation of age and survival in HIV infection. Pain, the principal symptom, was controlled in surviving patients with analgesics alone. Twenty consecutive patients with AIDS related sclerosing cholangitis, defined from at least two characteristic lesions at endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography, were followed for a minimum of 10 months or until death. Median age was 33.5 years (range 27-50). All had abdominal pain; 11 had diarrhoea. Alkaline phosphatase was > 2X normal in 13, but the bilirubin was raised in only three. The median CD4 was 0.024 x 10(9)/l (0.005-0.341). Thirteen had cryptosporidiosis, six had active cytomegalovirus, five had no gastrointestinal pathogen. Three patients are alive without AIDS related sclerosing cholangitis symptoms at 10, 11, and 21 months. Seventeen have died at median 7 (1-23) months. Cytomegalovirus therapy had no apparent influence. The initial CD4 was < 0.11 in all those dying within six months, but correlation of CD4 with prognosis was otherwise poor. Controls, matched for age, CD4, and opportunistic infections had virtually identical overall outcome (median survival 7.5 months) and the expected worse prognosis with increasing age. Increasing age, however, appeared protective in AIDS related sclerosing cholangitis (r = +0.6; p < 0.05): this is not explained by disproportionate degrees of immunosuppression, nor by opportunistic infections.